Is provided by the Legal Services Commission.
Web site – email@example.com
Help line –0845 608 6565
London office –0207 783 7000
I can only speak about my own personal experience in dealing with and speaking to some of the offices of the Legal Services Commission and listening to a number of people who have had dealings with them; and others who have seen how the system works in some offices.
I found the public image / shop front was, at face value very good; but I found the actual service very patchy. Certain people (one in particular) were helpful. Others seemed uninterested and I was left with the impression I was dealing with a secret service, with a big sign ‘Do not disturb’ . I was also surprised to discover that nobody keeps statistical information on a National level; in fact I was left wondering if anyone is in overall control of the LSC.
This is an extract from a letter I received (from one of their solicitors) in response to some of my questions:-
”A solicitor becomes approved for legal aid work by joining a firm who have a contract with the Legal Services Commission (LSC). The solicitor and the firm must comply with the requirements of the LSC’s Quality Assurance Standard that forms part of the Contract they enter into with the LSC. I do not have any figures on how many applications are turned down, nor how many solicitors are removed from the list.
Every application for legal aid is considered in detail to ensure that the applicant meets the merits and means criteria for funding. In brief, the client must show that they have a reasonable case that justifies funding and that they come within the financial eligibility limits for legal aid. They may well have to pay a contribution towards the cost of their case as legal aid is not always free.
Certificates are generally limited in scope and also have cost limitations. This means that cases are reviewed when such limitations are reached and solicitors must apply for and justify any further extension of funding. Funding can be withdrawn at any stage if the criteria are no longer met. The costs claimed by the solicitors are subject to assessment at the end of the case and can be reduced or disallowed.
When assessing whether an applicant qualifies financially we rely on the information supplied in the application forms. Unless we are informed that this information is incorrect we cannot look behind it. If we later learn that moneys may have been transferred immediately prior to the application being submitted in order to qualify for legal aid, or that the applicant has failed to disclose their true financial position, we can proceed to revoke the grant of legal aid. This would mean that the client is regarded as never having been legally aided and becomes responsible for all costs.”
How many Quality Assurance Standard Officers ( in whole time equivalents ) are there ??Without them there is no assurance.
They state ”….. Unless we are informed that this information is incorrect we CANNOT look behind it… ” Seeing as no other party is privy to this information, how will they ever know if it is correct or not ??
In divorce cases this information should form part of the Financial Disclosure . It would not be in breach of the Personal Data Protection Act, as all this information should be shown on Form E – Financial Disclosure.
When I pointed this out to one officer he said: ”Ah, well a solicitor has a duty and a code of practice to follow” – not worth the paper it is written on if nobody is privy to the information and nobody is ACTIVELY policing the system.
No matter how they rephrased their answer they could not dispute the fact that in divorce cases the ONLY PERSON that has any chance of knowing if the information is correct or not is the other party to the divorce. Why then are they not permitted to see it?
Why was I told they do not know the statistical information when it is kept at regions and not nationally?
The following was obtained in relation to two offices.
South Tyneside Region in the last 18 months – 5 firms were refused across 7 contract bids ; 41 firms withdrew.
Leeds regional office – 9 firms refused ; 51 firms withdrew.
No firms had been removed from the lists.
There are millions of pounds being poured into the system with very poor checks in place.
Each individual solicitor should be licensed and not the company itself.
If a solicitor is party to making a false/ misleading statement/claim or does not fulfil their duty they should lose their licence and be reported to the Law Society.
I am personally aware of one solicitor that deliberately caused their client to commit perjury in making out a false Financial Statement – FORM E (signed under oath) so I am sure they would have no hesitation in aiding a false claim and if they are prepared to, they will not be the only one. This practice I believe stems from the fact that there seems to be a reluctance on behalf of the courts to enforce sanctions relating to perjury.
Without the points raised being effectively addressed there is no effective control/discipline.
I am informed that the reason solicitors like to get legal aid is to frighten the other party into submission as they effectively have, in comparison, a bottomless pit and, of course, if they lose you cannot reclaim your costs.
So the government has created a – ‘heads they win and tails you lose’ situation
Don’t be afraid to inform the local legal aid office of what you know about your ex’s financial situation and if you feel they or their solicitor is not complying with the conditions of their legal aid award – it could mean they lose it. Then all things are equal.
Solicitors are very reluctant to make complaints about other solicitors but there is nothing to stop you informing the Law Society [ their governing body is the SRA ] if you believe your partner’s solicitor has not fulfilled their duty by withholding information or caused unnecessary delays – they have a DUTY to try to come to an out of court agreement.