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The Law Society, Legal Services Commission (LSC) and Ministry of Justice (MoJ) reached an agreement yesterday to resolve their differences of view about the consequences of the judgment of the Court of Appeal on the civil legal aid contract.
The Law Society had begun judicial review proceedings against the LSC in light of its inaction in response to the earlier Court of Appeal judgment.
The agreement also addresses a number of specific issues that the Law Society identified to the Commission and Ministry as being of concern to civil legal aid providers and, where these issues require further consideration, sets up joint mechanisms to address these collaboratively. The principal benefits for practitioners include an arrangement in respect of historic unrecouped payments (meaning generally payments on account made at least six years ago), a right to undertake remainder work on the no fault termination of a contract, increased rates for specific categories of legal aid work and a review of the practices and procedures relating to contract compliance audits.
The MoJ and the LSC has agreed not challenge the decision of the Court of Appeal in favour of the Law Society's arguments that clause 13.1 of the Unified Contract is incompatible with the Public Contracts Regulations 2006.
The Law Society's issued further Judicial Review proceedings against the LSC on 12 February 2008 for a declaration by the court concerning the implications of the earlier judgment. However, under this agreement those proceedings will be discontinued on terms which are intended to provide tangible benefits for legal aid practitioners and which will establish procedures designed to ensure a closer and more constructive relationship between the parties in the future.
Bill Montague, managing partner of Dexter Montague & Partners Solicitors, who jointly brought claims against the LSC with the Law Society last year, said:
'Today's settlement brokered by the Law Society marks a watershed in the relationship between legal aid practitioners and the LSC. The Society has achieved a deal which will benefit all CLS suppliers, at least in the short term.'