Centralisation of legal aid

Between today and the 25th April 2011, HM Court Service/Legal Services Commission will be moving the administrative job of granting (or refusing) legal aid application away from local courts in London to Havering Mags Court.

This doesn't sound very interesting and probably that's because it isn't.  But, it is a big waste of money that is being done for very short sighted reasons.

The hope, as is the hope with everying the LSC/HMCS do, is that centralising the work will mean quicker decisions reached at a lower cost.  But, it will not work.  It will cost more than the old system.

Previously, if you as a member of the public needed legal aid you could complete a form and hand it in at the court where your case was to be heard.  This was changed slightly last year when courts were clustered so that if you had a case at Redbridge Mags, for example, you had to hand the form in at Highbury Corner, which is just up the road.

Highbury quickly became the least efficient admin centre the world has ever know.  In fact at one point, a month after submitting an application for funding in a murder case I still had no response and the only way I could get a decision was to threaten to have the court manager summoned to appear before the Recorder of London at the Old Bailey to explain the delay!

All of the courts currently handling legal aid are less efficient than they were when each court handled it's own work.

The new centre at Havering will be even worse.

This is annoying for solicitors but it's not the end of the world.  But, the delays caused by legal aid will mean cases are put back and the outcome will be delayed.  Solicitors don't get paid extra per hearing (despite the urban legend that we are all delaying cases to get more money); however, for each case that is delayed that means another case is delayed while it waits in line behind the delayed case.  This means less court time is used to reach effective outcomes (i.e. having trials, sentencing people, entering pleas, etc) and more time is wasted pushing up costs for the courts and CPS and delaying justice for victims and those who have been charged despite being innocent!

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