A family solicitor is having to inform domestic violence victims that they must attend court on their own as a result of the latest glitches with the Legal Aid Agency's online legal aid system.
The agency had to take down its client and cost management system for 90 minutes yesterday to fix an issue. This morning it said it was 'aware of issues continuing to impact on users which we are working to resolve urgently and apologise for any inconvenience caused'.
Solicitor Beverley Watkins, managing partner at Bristol firm Watkins Solicitors, told the Gazette that she has had to inform domestic violence victims that they must attend court on their own because of CCMS failures.
She said the system has been 'on and off' for the past two weeks, and she is often met with an 'error page' message when she logs on.
Watkins explains that her firm often has emergency legal aid for initial hearings, but is unable to attend future hearings because the necessary legal aid paperwork cannot be processed or the firm cannot submit the paperwork.
On 9 November the agency announced that the system would be unavailable from 7pm to 11.59pm that day for 'essential maintenance work'. Yesterday, the agency said: 'We are aware of the issues around performance on our digital platforms. They are being investigated and worked on urgently and we will keep you updated.' An hour later, it said: 'Urgent, please note: CCMS will be unavailable for 90 minutes from 3.15pm.'
Chris Minnoch, chief executive of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, said: 'Some of our members have emailed to tell us they are pulling their collective hair out as they haven't been able to use the system for three days, and the only communications issued by the LAA seem to talk about issues affecting users and performance of their digital platforms.'
Richard Miller, the Law Society's head of justice, said CCMS has been beset with problems from the outset. 'System outages mean legal aid solicitors are unable to submit legal aid applications for their clients, some of which require work to be done urgently. A system which too often makes it difficult or impossible for solicitors to undertake essential work for their clients is clearly not fit for purpose,' he added.
Update (Thursday 11.30am): A Legal Aid Agency spokesperson said: 'We are working urgently to resolve the technical issues with the client and cost management system that some people are experiencing. We have apologised for the inconvenience and are urging anyone needing to progress emergency or urgent applications to contact us by telephone.'