The High Court’s challenge to defendants who are released from prison is delayed by legal aid errors

The High Court’s challenge to defendants who are released from prison is delayed by legal aid errors

Lawyers are on strike to finance legal aid (AP)

Lawyers are on strike to finance legal aid (AP)

The director of the Legal Aid Agency asked for a humiliating apology after a list of errors delayed a High Court case that could have important ramifications in the ongoing lawyers’ strike.

Thousands of Crown Court hearings across the country have been halted since lawyers voted overwhelmingly to strike in their legal aid feud with the government.

Judges have now begun to allow the release on bail of defendants pending trial in prison, as the judicial system is paralyzed by chronic delays.

The Crown Prosecution Service is challenging decisions not to extend custody terms for defendants and an urgent hearing was scheduled for Thursday in the High Court.

However, the hearing could not take place as planned, due to delays in granting legal aid to the lawyers involved in the appeal.

The High Court battle is a key moment in the legal aid dispute, as the government is under increasing pressure to find a solution that encourages lawyers to return to work.

This pressure is likely to increase significantly if the stalemate continues and large numbers of defendants are released from prison pending trial.

In Isleworth, a suspected arsonist has already been released after a judge concluded he did not have the power to further extend the terms of custody, while judges from Oxford, Leicester, Bristol, Bolton and Manchester reached similar decisions.

Lawyers' strike to finance legal aid is the latest crisis to hit the beleaguered criminal justice (PA) system

Lawyers’ strike to finance legal aid is the latest crisis to hit the beleaguered criminal justice (PA) system

Malcolm Birdling, representing the Legal Aid Agency, apologized to CEO Jane Harbottle for the shortcomings which meant the High Court challenge was delayed.

He said the agency accepted the “unsatisfactory way civil legal aid applications were handled” and decided to resolve the issues.

Mr. Birdling told Dame Victoria Sharp, president of the King’s Bench Division, and Mr. Justice Chamberlain that two of the civil legal aid applications were filed last Friday, but they were not mistakenly prioritized for an urgent decision and funding was granted only on Wednesday.

“The director admits the delay was unacceptable,” he said, adding that even lawyers had been mistakenly told to submit their applications – initially on paper – for the second time through a digital system.

“It seems like applications made on paper haven’t reached the right people,” he said.

Mr. Birdling said the request for legal aid for a third defendant involved in the High Court battle may have been completely lost by the agency.

“There is no record of an application being filed,” he told the court. “It could be due to an administrative error on the part of the LAA.”

Former Criminal Bar Association president Jo Sidhu KC addressed a protest by lawyers outside the Old Bailey in London (PA)

Former Criminal Bar Association president Jo Sidhu KC addressed a protest by lawyers outside the Old Bailey in London (PA)

The director has decided to send new guidelines to criminal lawyers on filing civil legal aid requests, update internal instructions to staff so urgent cases take priority, and set up a dedicated email address to try and ensure that the questions are not lost.

Dame Victoria commented that the failures “have led us to the position where we cannot now have the hearing”.

He accepted that the challenge is now heard by the court on Monday, September 26.

The court was also told that the new secretary of justice Brandon Lewis has asked to be removed as an interested party in the judicial review challenge.

Lawyers are on strike over legal aid fees that are expected to be raised by the government on September 30 by 15%.

The increase does not apply to the 60,000 cases already in the crown court backlog, and the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) says a 25% increase is needed to make up for years of lapsing.

Thousands of hearings and trials were adjourned due to the strike, adding to lengthy delays in the judicial system, and judges who refused to extend custody terms pointed the finger at the government for failing to act to end the strike and guarantee Lawyers financed by legal aid are in court.

CBA President Kirsty Brimelow KC is expected to sit down for talks with Mr. Lewis on Tuesday, September 20.

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