Following a legal challenge from the Law Society, the lord chancellor has given solicitors the right to choose whether civil legal aid bills between £2,500 and £25,000 are assessed by either the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) or specialist judges.
The decision to change the assessment arrangements was announced unexpectedly in June 2020. The Law Society challenged this by judicial review.
Law Society president David Greene said: “We brought this action because the LAA announced changes to the way legal aid costs were assessed without a credible consultation or evidence to support moving cost assessments from the courts into the LAA.”
Our concerns were:
- the LAA may not have the expertise to assess complex costs (historically it has only assessed very low or pre-agreed legal aid bills) compared to cost judges who routinely assess solicitors’ claims for work on complex cases
- the LAA may not always be the most appropriate arbiter (as it has a stake in the outcome of costs assessments) whereas a costs judge is in a position to make an impartial, expert assessment.
Under the terms of the settlement, the LAA will consult with the profession how legal aid costs should be assessed in the future.
The consultation is expected to run during February 2021, leading to a decision in March or April.