About the Family Law Week blog

The Family Law Week Blog is a companion site to Family Law Week. It complements the news, cases and articles published on Family Law Week with additional comment and coverage of the wider aspects of family law.

The Blog is edited by Jacqui Gilliatt, of 4 Brick Court and Lucy Reed, of St Johns Chambers.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Legal Aid Update: Very High Cost Cases Part II

Kindly written & supplied by Jerry Bull (Managing Director of Atkins Hope, Solicitors in Croydon) & Samantha Little (Partner & Head of the Children Law Team at Russell-Cooke in Kingston) from their talk to the ALC Conference.

General comments about high cost cases

7 Which Plan?

a. When you are reaching the £20K limit start preparing for a VHCC. You need to ensure your systems (whether sophisticated accounts systems or on the back of an envelope) allow you to add up your costs, counsel’s fees, experts and other disbursements

b. You might want to get your file costed to check your costs.

c. The LAA ask that as soon as you know you are going to exceed £25,000, you tell them. In practice, most of us wait to be sure we are going to exceed that sum. Do not leave it until it is too late.

d. Check your exiting costs limit will enable you to claim all your costs to date before registering as a VHCC as you will be limited to the certificate limit otherwise. You can add up the totals on your multiple certificates but you cannot have a total over £25,000 even if you have 6 certificates.

e. Check how many “events” there have been and multiply by the appropriate rate for each of the plans to work out your costs on an events basis.

f. Alternatively rely on your time recording and records of hearings on the case to be able to assess the costs to date

g. If you make more on an events basis then go with that. If you can make more on a timed basis then choose that but bear in mind how much more work is involved in preparing a detailed case plan and whether you will actually get round to doing it.

8 Ensure you know counsel’s fees and that they have been claimed.

9 If the case becomes high cost because a hearing overruns and they are being paid on the old FGF (which as time goes on is less likely), then as long as the fees on FGF at the time of the notification keep your total under £25,000 you are OK, even if when recalculated Counsel’s fees for those hearings are far higher once they have escaped FGF and their fees have been recalculated. This will happen less and less as FAS fees do not increase when a final hearing exceeds 10 days.

10 When you are at or near the £25,000 level, you MUST notify the LAA. You will see in the information pack where the notification must be sent depending on what type of case it is. You can notify by email (see above). The LAA will need details of the costs you have incurred so that they can be sure the case has been correctly notified by you. They will then tell you by email if the case has been registered and assuming it has, then you must then submit your case plan within 4 weeks.
NB this rule is going to be strictly applied. In the past the LAA did not seem to worry that case plans were not submitted and many of us would submit claim 1s in lieu. The LAA now say that unless they have agreed an extension or unless the final hearing is within 4 weeks of notification, you must submit your case plan within 4 weeks otherwise you will not be paid for the costs between notification and submission and they say that contract sanctions will apply. If you agree an extension make sure you do so in writing and keep to the new date.
If you have a hearing within 4 weeks, make reference to this in the email to the LAA and ensure they acknowledge this – you have 4 weeks from the conclusion of the final hearing to submit your claim in lieu Beware that if the final hearing does not in fact take place as a final hearing, the date from which the 4 weeks starts is the date of registration rather than the end of the listed final hearing.

NB if you are opting for an events plan, you still have to submit a case plan as well. It would be wise to send your papers to be costed into a plan before you notify.
In the event that you cannot submit a full plan (e.g as you await counsel or expert’s fees) either send in a plan to comply with the time limit or notify LAA of reason for delay and ask for more time. Note however that if the agreement is not forthcoming in time and you are near the 4 week deadline, you must submit your plan otherwise you risk losing costs between the notification and the date of lodging the plan.

If you are preparing a fully costed case plan, the LAA only promise to get back to you within 8 weeks so you are covered to carry on working as long as you have submitted within 4 weeks. The LAA hope to agree the case plan within 8-12 weeks. Once agreed, they will pay you your pre-contract costs. Please note the timescales for events plans are much quicker.

NB you MUST seek urgent amendment if you need a scope amendment or prior authority and these must be dealt with before the work is incurred in the usual way. It sounds obvious but make sure that you keep all your correspondence with the LAA on the subject of your case plans separate to your main correspondence

11 In the usual way you submit updated case plans when there are significant changes to the work you proposed or the next stage is reached.

12 With a fully costed case plan, you can obtain payment on account up to 75% of the pre-contract costs and 75% of any agreed stages of the plans once completed.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Legal Aid Update: Very High Cost Cases Part I

Kindly written & supplied by Jerry Bull (Managing Director of Atkins Hope, Solicitors in Croydon) & Samantha Little (Partner & Head of the Children Law Team at Russell-Cooke in Kingston) from their talk to the ALC Conference.

Sources of information

Justice website page

High Cost Cases Family Information Pack (dated 1.4.13)

Events model packs – there are three

• single counsel - latest guidance is dated 1.5.13
• two counsel - latest guidance is dated 1.4.13
• solicitor advocates – just released – guidance dated - 7.10.13


For 2 counsel cases - highcostcivil@legalaid.gsi.gov.uk

For all events based plans VHCCEvents@legalservices.gsi.gov.uk

For normal high cost case plans vhcc.queries@legalaid.gsi.gov.uk

1 VHCCs are those cases where the costs exceed £25,000 excluding VAT but including all disbursements/counsel fees. For some time, solicitors were required to prepare a costed case plan for future costs on an hourly basis (save in cases where there were two counsel and solicitors which were usually paid by events)

2 The LAA makes no secret of the fact that they prefer events based plans for high cost cases and they think that there are many benefits for practitioners too. The LAA are keen to encourage solicitors to use the events based models.

3 The LAA have for some time now been offering solicitors the option of an events plan for public law care cases where there is a single counsel and the case is in the county court/high court. One of the disadvantages of this events model was that it was not very attractive to solicitor advocates who were conducting some, if not all, the advocacy in the case. Thus the LAA conducted a small pilot with some firms to test out a solicitor advocacy events model and this is now being offered to all solicitors.

4 Thus where you have a public law case with one counsel or where you have done some of the advocacy yourself you have the choice of either

a. one of the two events based models or

b. you can still opt for the original type of fully costed case plan.

5 The normal costed case plan remains the only route for private law and other public law cases (including rule 16 cases) although it may still be worth enquiring about an events model as we have experience of it being accepted on a discharge of care order case.

6 There is a comprehensive information pack on the LAA website and the model packs for each type of plan (see above). They are set out clearly and are relatively easy to read.