Firms are still waiting to sign on the dotted line to deliver face-to-face civil legal aid services as emergency arrangements put in place by the government to protect service provision end today.
The Legal Aid Agency once again reminded those with 2018 civil contracts uploaded into the agency's online portal to accept them as soon as possible. The government made emergency arrangements less than two hours before the new contracts came into force last week after several anxious providers complained that they had not received the necessary paperwork.
The agency has repeatedly reminded practitioners this week to log into the agency's contracted work and administration portal to sign their contracts. Its latest update, posted on Tuesday, stated that 262 providers had not done so. Those who have not 'executed' their contracts by today will not be authorised to carry out further work.
Those affected by the contract debacle include Brent Law Centre, which tweeted yesterday:
2 days to go and still no word from the LAA regarding our contract. No information, no communication despite raising questions and seeking guidance! Again, rhetoric on accessing justice passes over those in need.— Brent Law Centre (@BrentLawCentre) September 6, 2018
This afternoon the law centre tweeted that it had still not received its contract and would be spending the weekend considering the consequences:
No legal-aid contract. I’ve made submissions via Bravo- they haven’t been read, responded to a message yesterday on Bravo, uploaded all required verification evidence…. So, I suppose as off today BCLC are out of the legal aid market. A weekend of considering the consequences..— Brent Law Centre (@BrentLawCentre) September 7, 2018
The Gazette understands that one provider received its contract today but, despite repeatedly contacting the agency, remains unsure about what areas of work they can do.
David Gilmore, director of Loughborough consultancy DG Legal, told the Gazette that more automation must be introduced to speed up the tender verification process and improve accuracy. 'Software should replace Word documents to minimise the scope for confusion between the LAA and its providers. A set of computerised forms could easily replace the supervisor and indemnity forms and save thousands of hours for the LAA and its providers,' he said.
Update: On Friday evening, the Legal Aid Agency posted an update on its website, which stated that providers may still execute their contracts later than 8 September but will not be able to open new matters until they do.