A criminal defence firm says it will lose at least £40,000 should it fail to secure slots on the government’s crime duty rota following what it claims is a mistake by the Legal Aid Agency.
Niche Wigan practice Stock Moran Swalwell was informed by the agency this week that it had not been allocated any duty slots for the three-month rota that begins on 1 April.
The firm was told its CRM12 application form, providing details of its nominated solicitors, was incomplete in relation to the solicitors’ email addresses and phone numbers.
The news came as a shock to the firm, which submitted its CRM12 form on 9 January - five days before the deadline. On 10 January, the firm said, the agency confirmed that the application had been assessed as complete.
After being told the firm had not been allocated duty slots, Fagan said the agency has since admitted its mistake and apologised. The firm was asked to send a new CRM12 form. However, the firm still does not know if its solicitors will be on the upcoming rota.
Fagan said: ’Had our form not been validated, we would have had three days prior to the deadline to rectify the form. We placed our whole faith in the vetting process.
’Our concern now is that no one [at the LAA] is telling us exactly what they’re doing. We want to be in a position where our five solicitors are on the [rota].’
Not being on the rota would be devastating for the firm, Fagan said.
’Duty slot status brings in the new work from police stations and magistrates’ courts. It represents the substantial part of our work. It provides us with our future client base. It can also provide us with some of our more serious and complex cases,’ she added.
The firm has calculated that the three months’ loss of duty work will cost the firm more than £40,000 in lost revenue. Fagan said the figure was substantial in light of the fact that a suspended 8.75% fee cut for litigators is still on the statute book and there has been a general downturn in work throughout the country.
She added: ’I feel once more the bureaucracy may have taken over - the computer says “no”. They do not know how to make the computer say “yes”. We’re still hopeful common sense will prevail.’
Fagan said it was crucial that the firm’s five solicitors were on the government’s rota membership lists, which are expected to be released next week.
The Law Society said it was aware of a small number of firms whose CRM12s have been rejected by the agency.
’We strongly recommend that firms make representations through the Bravo system if they wish to challenge the LAA’s decisions, and seek to resolve these matters direct with the LAA,’ a spokesperson added.
Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association chair Zoe Gascoyne said the association had received reports from a number of concerned members. The association has raised some concerns directly with the agency.
The LAA has been approached for comment.
Update (8 February): The Gazette has learned that Stock Moran Swalwell has now been added to the forthcoming duty rota.