The Legal Aid Agency has today today announced that all new civil Legal Aid applications must be made using the Client and Cost Management System from 1 April 2016.
The announcement comes despite warnings from Resolution and other representative bodies that the system is not fit for purpose, as detailed in our letter to the LAA last week.
The Agency have, however, conceded that practitioners are still experiencing significant technical difficulties that prevent them submitting applications on CCMS, and in these circumstances a paper application will be accepted. There is more information in the LAA update.
Resolution and the Legal Aid Practitioners Group have today released the following statement in response to this announcement:
'The Legal Aid Agency have today announced that all providers making new civil Legal Aid applications must use the Client and Cost Management System (CCMS) from 1 April.
We are disappointed that, despite their claims, the LAA have not listened to users of the system, more than two thirds of whom reported regularly experiencing problems with CCMS in a recent survey.
We do welcome the introduction of contingency measures, which does allow for paper submissions in certain circumstances. This acknowledges the frustration felt by users, and delays and restrictions to access to justice suffered by some of the most vulnerable in society.
However, the guidance on how these measures will work will lead to even greater confusion, uncertainty, and frustration among the legal aid community.
The LAA defines a condition by which a paper application may be submitted as an "exceptional circumstance". Regrettably, the experience of our members is that regular problems and system failure is anything but exceptional. Just yesterday, we received many reports that people could not access the LAA portal.
We recognise that the LAA is keen to avoid another government IT failure. Unfortunately, if they plough ahead with CCMS – which 82% of users say is not ready for compulsory use – that is exactly what they will have.
Our call for a delay is not driven out of a dogmatic opposition to new systems – in fact, 71% of respondents to the survey said they welcome the concept of electronic working, and there are acknowledgements that improvements have been made since CCMS was first introduced.
However, our members have identified a number of further improvements which need to be made to CCMS before its use is made compulsory.
We call on the Legal Aid Agency to see sense, take a pragmatic approach, and not force people to use a system that is clearly not fit for purpose until these improvements have been made.'
Emma Cordock, Chair, Resolution Legal Aid Committee
Nicola Mackintosh QC (Hon) and Jenny Beck, co-chairs of Legal Aid Practitioners Group