I complain often enough about the LSC finding pathetic technicalities upon which to base the rejection of my claims for payment for work done (most recently a five figure sum which relates to work between 6 and 18 months ago on a single case, but more frequently the rejection of a smaller claim because I have a court seal (not readily forged) instead of the mandatory initial (easily forged) on my FAS form). But the recent refusal of a legal aid contract to the National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS) to enable it to continue to represent children involved in intractable or complex private law children disputes really takes the biscuit.
In short, the LSC says that some of the office addresses of NYAS were omitted from their tender application. So that’s it. They’re out. No right of appeal. Notwithstanding the fact that NYAS dispute the suggestion the address information was omitted, saying that there was a technical error with the online portal which was the sole route for submitting tender applications. And notwithstanding the fact that the LSC presumably had the information it now complains was missing, since NYAS has been a provider since 1999.
From discussions I’ve had with local solicitors, the application process and the portal left something to be desired: no way of knowing whether or not your application had been correctly received or received at all, coupled with an inflexible deadline and no right of appeal left many very anxious.
There are around 70 organisations in the same boat, with equally valid grievances, but the NYAS case stands out for me. NYAS are unique – they are the only body other than CAFCASS who are able to represent these children, and there are some cases where a child’s trust in CAFCASS has been lost, or where CAFCASS lack capacity or expertise.
Frankly it’s scandalous that the LSC can run it’s operations in such a way as to achieve results like this. “Computer says no” is no basis upon which to run a public body whose purpose is to serve the interests of justice. What possible public interest can be served by operating in this purposely inflexible way? I often ask the same question about the non-payment of counsel’s fees – but to that there are a number of obvious skeptic’s answers (to keep a bit more cash in the bank until the end of the financial year, or to run the bar out of business if you are really paranoid). But what about the rationale for this? If I were a conspiracy theorist I might think that NYAS have fallen foul of the Government’s antipathy towards private law children proceedings in general, but I know that in reality there is no rationale. It is just mindless bureaucracy.
I don’t know which is worse.
You can read the full appeal documentation on the NYAS website.
NYAS are asking people to write to Ken Clark or to their MP.
For myself, I’m taking bets on a JR of the LSC being launched by someone before Valentine’s day is out.