We were proud to be a sponsor of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group annual conference which took place on 9th October in Birmingham. The theme of the day was ‘Legal Aid: Facing the Future’ and as usual the conference was both informative and inspiring.
The day was filled with a variety of different speakers and workshops. Our Head of Legal Aid, David Smith, ran two workshops together with Jane Pritchard of TV Edwards; the morning session looked at civil (non family) costs and the afternoon session covered family costs, including billing tips for CCMS and an overview of the new rules for high cost care cases.
In the morning Hugh Barrett, Director of Legal Aid Commissioning and Strategy at the Legal Aid Agency, highlighted that the public sector spend on debt interest (£36 billion) is currently higher than the £34billion spent on public order and safety (which includes the MOJ budget). He stated that the MOJ was in discussions with the Treasury regarding budgets and confirmed that the priorities for the LAA were improving efficiency, reducing costs and going online. He also said that news on the Standard Civil Contract 2013 would be available soon; however the likelihood was that the contracts would be extended for at least another year.
Lord Bach provided an update on the Labour party’s review of legal aid; he advocated the need to examine the consequences of LASPO, and develop a future legal aid policy that was credible, principled, up to date and which provided access to justice. The government had been asked to bring forward their own review of LASPO but had declined; Lord Bach stated his belief that it was important to look to influence changes to LASPO now. Anyone who felt that they had something to contribute to the review was encouraged to come forward.
Access to Justice and IT was the final topic of discussion during the morning. Jen Hyatt, CEO of Big White Wall, gave a presentation highlighting how the service had assisted people in accessing mental health support, and she believed that technology would continue to shape the way in which people interact. Professor Roger Smith OBE set out some of the useful IT innovations he had discovered around the world regarding access to justice.
In the afternoon David Gilmore, DG Legal, encouraged members to ensure that they were accessible to their clients 24/7 and highlighted the possibility of using an agency to answer calls. He advised that he had conducted a survey by contacting 38 of the firms present at the conference by phone on a Wednesday evening and a Sunday afternoon. Two of the 38 firms answered the call directly.
The message at the end of the day was that, although LASPO had delivered a devastating blow, there were signs of a fightback and LAPG would continue to fight the good fight.