The Legal Aid Handbook
Vicky Ling, Sue James, Carol Storer, Anthony Edwards
Legal Action Group, £60
This annual Handbook is deemed ‘essential reading’ by many legal aid practitioners.
Editors and contributors include eminent academics, and lawyers and caseworkers working in private practice, law centres or frontline NGOs. This edition contains 25 chapters spanning every aspect of both criminal and civil legal aid, from applying for contracts and making applications, to submitting fee claims. New to this edition are costs appeals in civil cases (chapter 18) and a chapter on public law. The book’s layout and use of indices, tables, select appendices, and case studies, promote ease of reference.
Available as a paperback or e-book, this handbook is supported by a companion website containing regular news, updates and resources; readers can register for email updates. The handbook Twitter page also automatically tweets all announcements from the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) website, helping to keep practitioners abreast of changes. Since the LAA no longer produces a hard copy manual, its website is a mandatory point of reference. The publication contains accessible guidance and exact website addresses – for example, application and claims forms – making these much quicker to locate.
Contributors routinely cross-reference to relevant chapters elsewhere. In chapters 3 and 5, the generic civil legal aid requirements are listed and supplemented with coverage on specific areas of law containing detailed cross-references in chapters 7-14. These features save time – that most valuable commodity for busy practitioners.
Case studies are a regular feature and detailed enough to provide real solutions and guidance. Bullet-pointed checklists are part of the ‘house-style’, helping to navigate the complexities of the legal aid scheme. There are salutary reminders that failure to comply with requirements could mean fees are not paid or delayed; files could be LAA audited; and future legal aid contracts could be jeopardised.
This handbook’s breadth and depth mean it is accessible for both the novice and the more experienced practitioner. It also provides a user-friendly ‘step-by-step’ guide.
The devastating impact of the LASPO cuts means there are fewer legal aid providers. For example, there are now 1,000 fewer criminal practices than formerly.
This demystifying text is a talisman for providers continuing to offer legal aid where available.
Shirley McDonagh is a non-practising solicitor