Marriage & Civil partnership

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LAA’s IT system forces family lawyers to ‘bang their heads against a wall’

Client Cost and Management System may 'never be fit for purpose' The Legal Aid Agency’s (LAA) controversial £35m Client Cost and Management System (CCMS) has been criticised as ‘nothing short of a national scandal’ by family lawyers. Speaking at Resolution’s national conference in Brighton, Jo Edwards, pictured, chair of the family justice organisation, outlined the difficulties legal aid lawyers are facing with CCMS and the failure of the LAA to resolve the issues: ‘The CCMS has been beset with problems since its introduction. Resolution welcomes online working, but this is not the way to do it.’ She continued: ‘At the last count, the Legal Aid Agency had spent over £35m on this ill-fated project. When set against the scale of the legal aid cuts introduced in April 2013, and the huge number of vulnerable people now deprived of access to justice who could benefit from some of this budget being used to fund initial legal advice, this is nothing short of a national scandal.’ CCMS was introduced as a digital means of submitting civil legal aid applications, and is set to become mandatory for practitioners in October.  Resolution has maintained a dialogue with the LAA since the system was first piloted two years ago to help the agency identify the problems the system may cause practitioners.  Despite these efforts, Resolution says that significant problems remain that ‘engender serious doubt’ as to whether CCMS will ever be fit for purpose. ‘Until now we’ve taken the view that it’s better to try to work with the LAA rather than against them,’ explained Edwards. ‘But, increasingly, we feel we’re banging our head against a wall. They seem intent on rolling CCMS out in October, at any cost, despite the very many difficulties we have long been flagging. The system continues to be unstable, users can’t keep a record of what they’ve submitted and it is so slow that it can take three times as long as the paper process.’ Resolution has called on the LAA to heed the concerns of practitioners, who will be forced to use the system. ‘My message to the Legal Aid Agency is simple – just because something works for you, doesn’t mean that it works,’ said Edwards. ‘There may have been some improvements in CCMS as a result of our work, and we welcome this.  But if the system is rolled out in its current form, there will be untold difficulties come October. I say to those at the LAA – you need to listen to what practitioners are saying, and act on it now, for your own sake as much as anyone else’s,’ she added. Russell Conway, a senior partner at Oliver Fisher Solicitors, recently told SJ that the CCMS was yet another government ‘IT horror show’. ‘CCMS regularly breaks down, times out, and was described by one of my more computer literate staff as the worst piece of software they had ever dealt with,’ said Conway. ‘My firm is far from a bunch of Luddites. We are embracing this vile piece of technology. But while 75 per cent of our recent applications have been online, I have to wonder at the price. Spending hours to do what you used to be able to do in a matter of minutes is ridiculous.’   John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor for Solicitors Journal | @JvdLD

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