CLSA urges appeals avalanche to reverse LAB phone 'policy'

THE Criminal Law Solicitors' Association (CLSA) is protesting against an alleged Legal Aid Board drive to reclassify duty solicitor phone calls to police stations at a lower rate, by urging its members to overwhelm the board with appeals.

Last week The Lawyer revealed accusations by Eastbourne solicitor Rodney Warren that the Brighton LAB was introducing “budgetary cuts through the back door”.

He claimed that it was classing phone calls to a police station, other than those involving clients, as routine calls and not advice and assistance calls.

The CLSA has now resolved to advise its members to appeal against every reclassified call until the LAB admits the policy, reverses it, and reinstates all claims.

But the LAB has denied all allegations of policy changes. An LAB spokeswoman said: “There is no national guidance setting out what is or is not an advice and assistance rather than a routine call. Each call has to be assessed with respect to the particular circumstances of the case in question.”

But suspicions of a 'back-door policy' change increased last week when a pre-printed tick-box with the words “telephone calls with officer in case and custody sergeant are not claimable” appeared on the standard form, refusing solicitors' claims given out by the LAB's Reading branch.

“It is highly unlikely that a legal aid area such as Reading would go out on a limb and pre-print a form without authorisation from above,” said Sinclair, a partner at Tuckers.

An LAB spokesman said fears about the pre-printed box had arisen due to a “misunderstanding” after Reading LAB staff had typed the explanation by the side of a blank box, in just one form, in the same font as the rest of the page, for “reasons of clarity”.