The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has delayed the launch of online working for civil cases, days before the planned national rollout.
The agency had come under fire from practitioners for seeking to press ahead with the expansion of the scheme after feedback from testers indicated flaws.
The agency had scheduled the client and cost management system (CCMS), to enable providers to submit legal aid applications and bills electronically, to go live next Monday (20 January).
But yesterday it revealed that the rollout would be ‘deferred’.
An LAA spokeswoman said: ‘We have made much progress with the new system and continue to see large numbers of applications and bills being submitted and processed electronically. However, it is right to take some additional time now to deliver further technical improvements, identified during the system’s pilot phase, before we introduce the system to a much larger number of users.’
The agency said over 3,000 applications had been processed electronically using the CCMS during the pilot phase, by 47 solicitor firms in the north-east.
The LAA spokeswoman said the national rollout would begin ‘as soon as possible’ but said no date had been set.
Commenting on the move, the Law Society’s chief executive Desmond Hudson said: ‘We had been concerned about some of the reports we have been receiving from pilot practitioners, and have been discussing those concerns with the LAA.
‘We think that the decision to defer the rollout is the right one in the circumstances, and will continue to work with the LAA to try to ensure that when the rollout happens it is a success.’
The key problem identified by providers was the lack of audit trail, giving them no way of seeing what they had submitted to the LAA.
It was also claimed that the system introduces duplication in the process for emergency applications; does not allow supporting documents, such as evidence of means and orders, to be sent; and that providers have to keep logging on to the system to track the progress of applications.