Legal Aid Board battles on over police station call rates

A SUSSEX solicitor has won his appeal against the Legal Aid Board's decision to downgrade a police station call to a lower rate. But the LAB and legal aid practitioners are still locked in battle over the issue.

Last week, Eastbourne solicitor Rodney Warren, who threatened to take the LAB to judicial review after allegations that it was introducing “cuts through the back door”, had his appeal granted by the Brighton area committee.

He said he hoped the LAB would reverse the alleged “policy change” of classifying calls to a police station, other than to a client, as routine calls, which command a cheaper rate than advice and assistance calls.

But last week, four of London firm Tuckers' claims were returned with the statement that all calls to custody sergeants were routine. An attempt by the firm to have such calls reclassified as advice and assistance foundered when the London LAB office said the Brighton decision had no affect on its claim.

An LAB spokesperson denied any national internal guidance had been issued, or that the London office had an internal committee looking at the issue, and said an individual appeal did not bind other area offices. The LAB will issue a reminder to offices that all calls must be assessed on their own merits.

Claims of an LAB policy change were first revealed by The Lawyer in May and prompted The Criminal Law Solicitors Association to urge its members to appeal all reclassified calls until the LAB admitted the existence of the alleged policy and reversed it.