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We recently reviewed the way criminal law firms are set up within our system and it became apparent there were some inconsistencies that require addressing. Accordingly, we are developing a new process whereby firms on the criminal law panels will be eligible to receive panel referrals from LAQ for matters in courts which are within a 35km round trip from their office. In regional and remote areas, firms will generally be allocated to receive panel referrals for matters that are in their local court even if the distance is more than a 35km round trip from their office.
This is not a change to the policy that criminal law matters are allocated based on court location. However, the system changes implemented will better link firms to the local courts they service so that we prioritise local firms to receive new grants. This change will ensure that we continue to equitably allocate matters to all firms.
Later in the year we will also be undertaking a review of the way that family and civil law firms are set up within our system to ensure that equitable allocation continues across these matters. We will provide you with an update on this later in the year.
We will keep you updated regarding the changes and we hope to roll out this development during March 2019.
All firms should be aware of their obligations under the preferred supplier agreement in relation to not seeking payment from legally aided clients. Under the agreement which commenced 1 August 2018, this section was expanded and there are now 4 clauses that address this issue – clause 4.6, 4.7, 4.8 and 4.9. I encourage all firms to review these provisions and to ensure that all staff are aware of these provisions and that your office has in place internal procedures to address the situation, should it arise, that a legally aided client wishes to enter a private fee paying arrangement with your office.
To assist firms in applying these clauses to a factual scenario, we have provided the following example of what should occur where a client has a grant of aid for their substantive criminal law matter and seeks to engage your firm on a private basis for the bail application. You should:
Once in receipt of this information, the grants officer will make an individual assessment in relation to the client’s ongoing financial eligibility which may include a termination of the substantive grant of aid, until such time as the private funds have been exhausted. Under the practice management standards, preferred suppliers have always had an obligation to ensure that any information which may impact on the merit or financial eligibility of a person with a grant of legal aid is reported to Legal Aid Queensland. This requirement in the practice management standards remains and is now enforced by the contractual obligation.
LAQ will continue to audit preferred supplier law firms as part of our ongoing commitment to financial accountability and maintaining effective systems of internal audit controls and compliances to protect against financial loss. These audit procedures may include telephoning legally aided clients to see if they have provided any payment to a legally aided preferred suppliers.
On 1 October 2018 a 1.7% increase to all solicitor and professional fees (with the exception of counsel fees in some matters where the rate is already $192ph) was applied. In addition to the 1.7% fee increase the following changes which were approved during the annual fees review process will take effect from 1 February 2019.
The expensive case request form has been updated to place the section relating to ongoing financial eligibility of the client at Part A. Previously this was at the end of the form at Part J.
The revised form is available from the For Lawyers section of the website under Grants online resources through this link: Expensive case request form.
Providing updated financial information at the time of making the expensive case application reduces processing delay as ongoing financial eligibility must be confirmed prior to approval of an expensive case request.
For all upcoming CPD events please refer to the For Lawyers section on Legal Aid Queensland website.