Re 'Legal Aid Board attacked over "cuts through back door"' (The Lawyer, 20 May, page 1): the Legal Aid Board has not introduced changes to the way it determines what constitutes an advice and assistance or routine call.
Should a conflict of opinion arise between the solicitor and the area office on assessment of the solicitor's claim for costs in respect of which rate a call merits, there is an appeal process available to have the claim for costs reassessed.
Firstly, the solicitor can appeal the costs decision to the area committee, a group of independent solicitors and barristers, who will review the costs decision afresh. If his/her professional colleagues agree with the solicitor, his/her claim will be paid accordingly. This process usually takes less than eight weeks.
If the solicitor disagrees with the ruling of the area committee, and believes that the issue at hand requires clarification for the benefit of solicitors generally, the solicitor can ask the area committee to certify a point of principle of general importance relative to the issue.
Once the point of principle has been certified the solicitor may appeal to the board's Costs Appeal Committee for a decision. The Costs Appeal Committee will consider whether a point of principle arises and, if so, will formulate the point. Once issued, the point of principle is binding on assessment by the area offices.
Although there has been talk of judicial review, the appeals process should be exhausted first. Discussion of judicial review is, therefore, premature.
Legal Aid Board
In The Lawyer Top 100 featured in our 13 May issue the details of Halliwell Landau were accidentally omitted. The firm has 110 fee earners and its turnover for 1996/97 was £10.75m, a 29 per cent increase on the previous year.