The Bar Council recently hosted a Family Legal Aid Billing Seminar which proved to be very popular with both clerks and practitioners. 

The panellists were Scott Baldwin, Chief Executive of  St Mary’s Chambers,  Robert  Damiao, subject matter expert at the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) and Charlotte Flanders, Managing Director and costs lawyer at Veritas Professional Legal Services. The Chair was Shiva Ancliffe QC.

Key points:

Evidential Requirements claims

  • The Cost Assessment Guidance has always envisioned remote hearings taking place.
  • Hearings: the LAA will accept an approved order listing the hearing times and bolt-ons/uplifts if applicable, or an attendance note confirming the hearing times where an order is not available or doesn’t have the detail.
  • Advocates Meetings: provide an endorsed brief and a copy of the approved order listing the meeting. The brief can be endorsed electronically rather than physically.
  •  Conferences: provide an endorsed brief or attendance note that confirms the time of the conference is separate to that used for the hearing and a brief note of what was discussed.

Common claim errors

Advocates meetings:

  • An Advocates meeting (AM) arranged by the parties without court direction is not an AM for the purpose of the Family Advocacy Scheme (FAS). The AM must be directed by the court.
  • The AM can be the same day as an interim hearing but must be outside the hours used to calculate the hearing fee.

Conferences:

  • Fees evidence is normally an endorsed brief with times recorded. The LAA don’t need full notes of the conference, but a brief summary helps the LAA with considering the fee.
  • Conferences can be the same day as an interim hearing, but must be outside the hours used to calculate the hearing fee.

Final Hearings:

  • Check the scope of the certificate for any work you do. A copy should always be provided with any brief for legal aid funded work.

Costs of attending:

  • If an advocate incurs costs in setting up a remote hearing (e.g. using a BT Meet Me number), this can be claimed as a disbursement. These costs relate to individual cases. Where, for example, chambers purchase a Zoom license this is an administrative cost for them and not an individual disbursement.

Email hearings:

  • The LAA will accept a court order recording the total time spent by the advocates discussing/agreeing the order. If this information is not on the court order, advocates would need to self-certify the amount of time spent reading and responding to emails. The LAA expect to see copies of emails and a copy of the court order with the advocate’s name recorded.

Hearings heard on the papers:

  • Occasionally instead of a remote hearing, the court will consider the papers and issue an order without calling any party in to the hearing. Where this happens, the LAA will pay this as if it were a cancelled hearing and allow one Hearing Unit fee.

The Payment on Account (POA): Amended Rules from 14 October 2020

  • Costs are payable at up to 80% of incurred costs - this is an increase from 75% (though remains 100% in Events cases).
  • The first POA can be claimed 3 months after the certificate was issued - this was previously 12 months.
  • It can still only be claimed for up to 3 years, though it can be claimed once every 3 months - was previously once every 12 months, within specific payment windows on final POA if the claim is not finalised within 6 months.
  • CCMS (Client and Cost Management System) will calculate this based on the date of taxation you enter, CCMS will work it out.
  • CCMS knows the above rules and will work out if your claim is within the payment windows and what the correct value of the payment is.

“Apply” & The Future

Apply is a new online service currently being developed to handle legal aid applications. There are currently 48 solicitor firms signed up to use the service, over 3500 applications have been submitted to date. Currently it only applies to DV (domestic abuse or violence) proceedings but will expand to more areas of law as development continues.

The introduction of Apply should have no immediate impact on the way counsel and fees clerk work with the LAA.

VHCC - Events

What counts as an event?

  • A hearing at court whether interim or main.
  • Advocates Meeting when ordered by court. In two counsel cases only two per counsel/solicitor, per part of proceedings - fact find/welfare stage.
  • Conference with client. Only two per case.
  • Written submissions when ordered by court in lieu of day of hearing. In two counsel cases only one advocate can claim.
  • You can only claim one event per day e.g. conference, advocates meeting and hearing all on the same day only attract one event fee.

What does not count as an event?

  • Experts meeting
  • Any drafting: advices, skeleton argument etc.
  • Reading day (non-attendance)
  • Conference without client
  • Watching videos/listening to audio
  • Reading additional material

Shiva Ancliffe QC is a barrister at Coram Chambers and a member of the Bar Council's Remuneration Committee.