It can be no surprise if lawyers (some, if not all) are currently shaking their collective heads at the excitable press revelations concerning the direction of Legal Aid and its distribution into seemingly dubious, vexing and in one instance, non-existent, cases. Lawyers might well feel that there could be, due to the sensationalist slant of those articles, a likelihood of them all ending up in the public’s popularity stakes, somewhere between burglars and ram raiders.
The press (naturally) do not differentiate between their published examples, and the far greater number of solicitors pursuing justifiable cases falling quite observably, within the Legal Aid remit – but the press are expressing an area of public concern that has been growing for some time. The misconceptions in part arise from the pressure from the Government to reduce the overall total cost of providing Legal Aid, and the general public’s anger, fuelled by the press, at seemingly huge amounts of money (taxpayers money) being directed in their view at undeserving causes.
The voices raised, mooting for a wider review of the Legal Aid system, and are not being unreasonable – but it is down to the Government to change the rules concerning who and what qualifies for such Legal Aid. Within the current rules, lawyers have a duty to represent their clients to the best of their abilities, using Legal Aid where it is available under the rules for that representation.
The LAA is caught in a vice – squeezed by the Government to cut costs on the one hand, and applications from solicitors for Legal Aid which under the present rules they are perfectly justified in so doing – irrespective of press or public disapproval and, as with any other person who undertakes work of any other kind, solicitors are entitled to their justifiable costs.
On the subject of costs - and saving money – as a Law Costs Draftsman, I have recently undertaken several successful appeals concerning reductions in costs claimed by clients. Were the amounts for large sums, then perhaps the said reductions may have been cost effective. The sums were minimal, and were in fact allowed by the rules in any case.
The process of appealing would have been totally non cost effective for all parties concerned including the LAA, both in terms of financial cost and time cost. Such “nit-picking” is exasperating to both Law Costs Draftsman and their clients. The LAA have a difficult and largely unsung task, but there are many other areas of costs savings to be looked at, rather than finding miniscule amounts such as the ones in which I was concerned.
Perhaps the Government will eventually put their “heads above the parapet” one day, and by more careful and thought through rule making, not leave the LAA and lawyers taking all the flak from the press, for the small number of contentious issues that have arisen. A modicum of balance would not go amiss.
If you require any advice on appeals concerning reductions to your legal aid costs, please make an enquiry.