The government has agreed to review a requirement introduced in latest criminal legal aid contracts to tackle the issue of 'ghost' duty solicitors. The Legal Aid Agency's decision follows widespread confusion from firms about what type of work they must show to be entitled to a duty rota slot.
Under the 2017 crime contracts, which came into force in April, duty solicitors must carry out a minimum of 36 court hearings and police station attendances in a rolling 12-month period. However, to stop firms from paying solicitors to use their details as 'ghosts' to obtain additional slots, duty solicitors are required to carry out 14 hours’ contract work per week from the office for which they derive their rota slots.
Following unanimous representations by the Law Society and practitioner groups for Crown court advocacy to count towards contract work, the Legal Aid Agency agreed to set up a working group to review the 14-hour requirement.
We have today been informed by our Contract Manager at LAA that the LAA is reviewing the 14 hours rule and Crown Court advocacy will now count. Some very welcome common sense. @lccsa— Birds Solicitors (@birdssolicitors) November 8, 2017
An agency spokesperson said: 'Maintaining public confidence in our legal system is vital and remains at the heart of our reforms. That’s why we introduced important changes to the 2017 crime contract to address the issue of 'ghost' duty solicitors. We routinely meet with legal professionals to discuss our reforms and will continue to do so.'
The Criminal Law Solicitors Association says the agency will 'pause any contract action' in relation to firms who have counted Crown court advocacy towards the 14 hours but have been all other contractual requirements.