The Law Society launches legal action against the LAA on ‘Court’ bill assessments
Judicial review proceedings have been issued against the Legal Aid Agency by the Law Society as they failed to consult on the decision to move legal aid cost assessments in house.
Legal Aid costs assessments are extremely complicated and require a specialist skill and knowledge in order to ensure that legal aid providers are paid properly for the work that they do. Traditionally, for cases of a value of more than £2,500 assessments have been undertaken by the Courts i.e. properly trained Judges with legal knowledge, training and expertise to make a fair and proper assessment. Cases of less than £2,500 have gone to case workers at the LAA for assessment.
In June this year the LAA announced that providers could opt to have their Court bills assessed by the LAA instead of the Court in order to assist providers with cash flow during the COVID 19 pandemic and resultant Court closures. However, on 17th August 2020 all assessments were moved to be handled by the LAA’s Civil Finance Team. This decision was made by the LAA without consultation on the decision to transfer the assessments in house and just on which changes were required to transfer the assessments over from the Courts.
The LAA failed to fairly consult with the profession on how their bills will be assessed. The profession is now understandably in fear of what impact this decision will have on their practices during an economically trying time and also an industry that is already underpaid and stretched financially. The move creates a significant conflict of interest as the assessor is also the paying party. To add fuel to the fire the appeals process is not independent. The independent cost assessors (ICA) are not truly independent as they are appointed and remunerated by the LAA, therefore again the assessor remains the paying party.
The Law Society has now issued proceedings on a protective basis and have invited the LAA to engage in full and proper discussions.