THE Law Society of Scotland issued a reminder today to all solicitors involved in children's legal cases that they will have to sign up to a new code of practice to be able to apply for legal aid.
The new Code of Practice for Children's Legal Assistance, drafted by the Scottish Legal Aid Board under the Children's Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011, has been submitted to the Scottish Government and once approved will apply to all solicitors who carry out work under children's legal aid.
Mark Thorley, convener of the civil legal aid team, said: "Solicitors should be fully aware of the new code and what it will mean for them in practice. The team has been involved during the drafting process and we're pleased that SLAB was generally receptive to our suggestions and about the progress made to help ensure the effectiveness and workability of the draft code.
"It is vitally important that solicitors are fully aware of what they need to do to meet the criteria before they register under the new code to ensure that they can take on these types of cases and be properly paid for the work they do."
Thorley added that despite the positive discussions and progress made in developing the code, the Society still has concerns about aspects of the current draft. These include methods of recording time spent on preparation for cases for Children's Hearings, and elements of the service standards setting out some of a solicitor's responsibilities towards the client. In addition, there is concern over the lack of detail currently available regarding the operation of a new duty scheme for children's legal aid, and delays in the drafting of regulations and other preparations for the implementation of the new Children's Hearings regime, due to come into effect in the second quarter of this year.
He said: "We view the requirement to record start and finish times for certain aspects of work as an unnecessary burden and while we appreciate the need to prevent any potential for fraud, we believe that some of the time recording requirements are disproportionate.
"We also think that there should be further detail about the planned cover or duty scheme and unless more information is available in advance of the registration process, firms may consider it advisable to register for the duty scheme under notice that they may choose to de-register once full details of the scheme are known.
"It's crucial that prior to registration, solicitors are fully aware of the new code's requirements. We will continue to monitor the progress and implementation of the code and intend to continue to work with SLAB to try to ensure that we have a code that achieves its objectives and is fit for purpose."
More information about the new code is available on the: Law Society website at Children's Legal Aid
Solicitors who have any questions or comments on this issue can contact Marina Sinclair-Chin by email: firstname.lastname@example.org