2018 Standard Civil Contract: The devil’s in the detail…

2018 Standard Civil Contract- improvements, streamlining or an attack on costs ?

This article will explore the implantation of the 2018 Standard Civil Contract (2018 Contract) and outline the main changes implemented.

The tender for the face-to-face contract finally opened on 19 September 2017 and closed on 10 November 2017, following a considerable delay due to the Snap General Election.

The 2018 Contract will begin on 1 September 2018 and will run for an initial 3 years up to 31 August 2021, with an option for the LAA to extend for up to a further 2 years.

It is currently confusing for both legal aid providers and those in the costing profession as there are now five different face-to-face Standard Civil Contracts for multiple categories:

  1. 2013 Standard Civil Contract: Family, Immigration and Asylum, Housing and Debt
  2. 2013 Standard Civil Contract (Welfare Benefits): Welfare Benefits in London, South East, Midlands and East
  3. 2014 Standard Civil Contract: Community Care and Mental Health
  4. 2015 Standard Civil Contract: Against Police, Clinical Negligence and Public Law
  5. 2016 Standard Civil Contract (Welfare Benefits): Welfare Benefits in the North and South West & Wales

The benefit of the 2018 Contract is that it will align all of the existing contracts into a single contract. This will replicate the situation when the Standard Civil Contract was first introduced in 2010 and will make it easier for practitioners to have reference to a single document rather than multiple.

Points of Principle of General Importance

The 2018 Contract now removes Points of Principle of General Importance. They were used to seek to clarify an existing provision of the contract or other guidance published by the Legal Aid Agency relating to the assessment of costs. With these being removed from the new contract it would appear that the clarity of the rules are being relaxed meaning more scope for the LAA to reduce costs. In practice however it could be the case that the existing Points of Principle of General Importance could become obiter dictum.

Instruction of Interpreters and Translators

2.47-2.51 of the 2018 Contract requires providers to use interpreters with specified qualifications. This means that using freelance interpreters could be a thing of the past and providers would potentially have to use specialised agencies. Furthermore at para 2.49 a file note must be placed on the matter confirming that the interpreter holds such a qualification and which qualification it is. This gives the LAA rise to refuse payment for the interpreter if a file note is not placed on the matter.

Disbursements (non-codified)

Under the new 2018 Contract (para 4.24-4.28) disbursements incurred when the rate has not been set by the LAA the provider must obtain and keep on file written quotations from at least three separate suppliers unless the LAA agree that it is not appropriate. This means that there is more work for the provider to undertake prior to incurring any non-codified disbursement.

Hourly Rates Enhancements

The new 2018 Contract states under para 6.14 that ‘Where we or the Court consider that any item of work should be allowed at more than the Prescribed Rate, we may apply to that item of work a percentage enhancement’. The new provision removes the wording ‘it shall’ to ‘we may apply’. This revision in wording conveys a change of mandatory to the optional application level of enhancement and does raise an important concern that it gives the LAA scope to ignore justifications for enhancement. However the good news is that the Courts are still given authority to assess enhancements on hourly rates Bills of Costs.

Summary

We will have to await the new 2018 Contract’s application on the assessment of costs, but on the whole it seems more intrusive and more restrictive than previous contracts.

Should you need any further Legal Aid advice, have any general queries or wish to discuss a particular costs issue you may be experiencing, please contact one of experts on 0370 300 3780 or click here for details of our Technical Costs Service.

Article Author:

Kenny Shealey LLB (Hons)- Senior Law Costs Draftsman

Kenny joined John M Hayes in 2013 having embarked his costing carer in 2012 with another national inter partes firm. Kenny undertakes all areas of publicly funded work including Civil, Family, Care and CCMS cases and is a specialist in the preparation of six column Bill of Costs. Kenny also specialises and is experienced in all areas of drafting inter partes Bill of Costs, drafting Points of Dispute and Points of Reply, Negotiations and Costs budgets. Kenny has provided training to Legal Aid firms in house to maximise costs and is embarking on around of national speaking events throughout England and Wales details of which can be found here .  Kenny will always go that extra mile to achieve the best results.