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Suggested Protocol from the CLSA to deal with the removal of Committal Fees.

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In response to the situation that firms are faced with where they could potentially be conducting hearings and not being paid, specifically for committal hearings, the CLSA have issued a suggested protocol for how firms may wish to conduct themselves in relation to committal hearings. This relates to situations where a firm feels unable to represent their clients at committal hearings in return for no remuneration, with the CLSA suggest the following procedure: 1. Where committal to the Crown Court is likely after a client has been charged with an either-way offence, the client's solicitor notifies the Duty solicitor of the situation and that the client will require representation at the committal hearing. 2. The client's own solicitor is available to organise the services of the Duty solicitor for their client. 3. Legal aid is applied for after the committal hearing. 4. An information sheet or retainer letter should be sent to the client from their solicitor. 5. There should be an agreement that, along with the current position where the Duty solicitor only represents an individual once, they must report to the client's own solicitor within 24 hours of the committal hearing occurring. 6. The court should be made aware, through the Duty solicitor, that the client will not be represented at the committal hearing and that the necessary papers will need to be served directly to them. The CLSA make particular note of the duties that solicitors acting under, or intending to act under, representation orders are bound to observe. This is specifically that 'a solicitor is unlikely to be compliant with obligations if the solicitor accepts instructions to 'be a defendant's solicitor' but declines to apply for a representation order or to undertake any work for them in the magistrates' court.' Nonetheless, the Law Society does make it clear that in the specific situation where a defendant will be committed to the Crown Court and the solicitor is likely not to receive any remuneration for the work done, then they can refuse to act without breaching their duty. This clearly relates to situations where the defendant elects a Crown Court trial but may later change their plea to guilty. However, the fact that the Law Society has given solicitors this option suggests that the solicitor is capable of knowing that the defendant may change their plea, therefore suggesting that this is something that is instigated by the defence legal team. This would result in situations where solicitors may have to justify why they believe the client could later decide to plead guilty. Whist there are proposals, such as that put forward by the CLSA above, on how criminal firms can deal with these remuneration changes, it is clear that this relies on all firms cooperating in order to provide a consistent approach. Therefore, it will be interesting to note how firms adapt to these latest cutbacks, although it must be acknowledged that criminal firms have had to deal with ongoing funding cuts for more than a decade. For more information please complete our Enquiry Form call us on 01245 493939 or email mail@gepp.co.uk The above is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

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