Invent some futile work

FAS

Reproduced with thanks to the Legal Aid Agency

FAS Ex506. It sounds important, doesn’t it?

Writing this blog for a mix of readers, I had better explain. First, what is a FAS Ex506?

Well, it is a ‘form’ that barristers and solicitors are required to fill it in to get paid for publicly funded work. Not, I may add, for ‘fat-cat lawyers’ – those filling in such forms are at the very bottom of the food chain when it comes to remuneration, with rates frequently lower than those for a joiner or plumber.

So, what happens to the ‘form’?

Every ‘form’ that is filled in at court is handed to the judge at the end of the case. It may be a case lasting days – or only minutes. Frequently the judge asks for the forms to be brought up to their chambers by a court official when the case is over. The judge will sit and initial entries, making sure that their signature is appended to every variable on the ‘form’. There could be up to eight signatures needed per form, and there may be up to ten ‘forms’ to be signed. Once signed, the court official carries them back to court and distributes them to each advocate in turn.

Now this is just the beginning of a journey for FAS Ex506. The advocate takes their ‘form’ back to their barrister’s chambers or solicitor’s office. Numerous other documents are added to it, including the advocate’s instructions to undertake the case on that particular day, a copy of the court’s order requiring the advocate to attend at a given time on that day, a copy of that day’s order stating what happened in court, and the advocates hand-written account of the hearing.

We now have a bundle perhaps containing over 20 pages of information – recording in minute detail every aspect of the case: what was expected to happen, what actually happened; why it happened; why what was expected to happen differed from what actually happened; what was going to happen next; what the advocate thought had, might or probably would happen; and if it didn’t happen, why not.

The bundle proceeds to a fees clerk, who checks it in meticulous detail for the slightest error. A missed signature would cause a crisis – any problems detected result in the bundle being returned to be repaired – perhaps by going back to the same judge at the same or different court on another day, for a missing signature to be added.

If approved by the fees clerk, the bundle of papers is sent to the Legal Aid Agency. Here a clerk with a NVQ in paper administration sorts all of the bundles for each case and inspects each page of each bundle for mistakes. Do the legal aid clerks receive bonuses for each bundle they reject?…for the most trivial issue will result in its return to sender. A summary that has been prepared by the fees clerk will be marked for accuracy by the legal aid clerk, and only if it passes with full marks will the request for payment be approved.

So, what is my point?

It is impossible to quantify the amount of time that is spent by the advocate, the judge, the fees clerk and the legal aid clerk simply on administration. In an era when digital data recording is preferred, why is this mountain of documents prepared and transmitted? Why the repetition of the same document frequently submitted by each advocate? Why is a judge expected to certify the information, when much of it is, or could be readily evident from the court order?

The system was introduced with little forethought. The Legal Aid Agency created their own monster, which they now administer at considerable public cost. No single person has put their mind to review or remedy this mindless exercise.

I suggest that the Legal Aid Agency gets its house in order and scraps the futile FAS Ex560. If they do not, I propose that the judges should add a further 30 minutes to each timed hearing – to account for judicial time taken in administration on behalf of the Agency. Were they to do this, I bet you can quickly guess how speedy would be the response!