Guest Post by Zena Soormally on the duties of ALRs

We’re very pleased to include this post by Simpson Millar’s Zena Soormally, which summarises the guidance from the Law Society on the role of ALRS.

“Having read the new Law Society Practice note on Accredited Legal Representatives (“ALRs”), I thought I’d summarise a little of what I now understand the role to entail and my thoughts for the views of those who are interested. Please note that you can only access the note if you are registered with the Law Society and, even when you do access it, it has the usual status of guidance from the Law Society, it is not binding:

  • If you act as ALR, P will be understood to be your client (notwithstanding that ALRs are appointed by the court so you won’t have your usual solicitor/client relationship)
  • If the court wishes to appoint you as an ALR (where you are accredited by the Law Society) the court needs your permission before you are so appointed – so there will be scope to work out your case load obligations at the time and funding issues (although there doesn’t appear to be any guidance about the ramifications, if any, if you refuse to take a case a number of times)
  • The ALR invitation can be made on courts own initiative or on application
  • The COP has to consider, as with all cases, at the start, whether an ALR should be appointed, or whether P should participate in some other way (Rule 3A) – generally that will be, in summary (1) ALR, (2) LF, (3) Rule 3A Rep, or some other direction
  • The Law Society Guidance suggests that the following cases are likely to require a litigation friend, not an ALR: where

o   expert evidence is needed – arguably quite a lot of cases will fall in to this category

o   the case is “complex” – although no definition or guidance is given to define what ‘complexity’ will look like

o   there are a wide range of issues to consider, and

o   the case involves 16-18 year olds who are a party

  • In other cases, a Rule 3A rep might fit the bill better.
  • In many cases, it’s possible that no representative of P at all will be needed, as is the case is non contentious – e.g. COP Property and Affairs cases
  • It is more likely that an ALR will be appointed if issues are relatively defined.
  • It may be that you will be appointed as ALR at first but then need a litigation friend as case becomes more complex or contentious. It will be up to the litigation friend whether they then instruct the ALR as solicitor going forward, although I can see benefits of that.
  • Once appointed as ALR, the usual processes follow as if you were a solicitor, as far as I can tell – e.g. see client, obtain and consider docs etc.
  • The COP’s list of ALRs will be updated monthly. It is up to the COP how it will allocate those cases and, as far as the guidance says, there is likely to be regional differences in approach, which will no doubt cause some issues for lawyers in practice while transition takes place to the new approach.
  • The guidance provides interesting guidance in relation to client care letters: P will be the ALR’s client but anyone acting as ALR will need to consider putting together an appropriate client care letter in line with the guidance and the SRA Code. If it is inappropriate to send a letter, ALRs will be expected to retain a copy on file with a note explaining why it wasn’t appropriate to send one.
  • ALR’s must adhere to SRA code of conduct, as would be expected.
  • ALR’s are not expected to send anyone else in their place to meet with P (which makes sense and must, in my view, be right, but which some senior solicitors may struggle with, if they routinely send out junior staff for client meetings, rather than attending in person).
  • ALRs will need to make sure,

o   as they already should , that they have regard to, and implement, Mr Justice Charles’ guidance on the Participation of P, and

o   even if you are unfamiliar with it now, that you have read the guidance re Rule 11 (7) (B) rules for MHT work, as there is overlap specifically mentioned in the guidance.

  • As with a litigation friend, the role of ALR is to put forward a case in P’s best interests, not always just what P wants, although you must always make P’s wishes and feelings clear. Whatever happens, if you are unsure what to do, the advice appears, sensibly, to be that you should make an application to the COP (on notice or not) under Rule 148A to seek guidance.
  • Solicitor ALR’s can conduct own advocacy in COP but you can also instruct Counsel if you wish – although, as always, they must have the right experience.
  • The duties to your ‘client’ section of the guidance, including the sections on confidentiality, disclosure and privilege, cause me some concern, given the practice of preparing notes of visits to P, where they lack capacity to conduct proceedings, and reporting everything said to the COP by way of witness statement: I am not sure, in practice, how the balance will be struck under the ALR role, where there is no client to seek instructions from on the issue of whether something should be withheld from the statement or not. In practice, it may result in further applications to the COP for guidance, until the case law has developed to provide that guidance.
  • Funding: this is still a pain as far as I can see but the updated information is helpful. Essentially, as I understand it, it works as if you are a litigation friend, save that you have to ask the LAA to exercise its discretion under Regulation 30 (5) to waive the need for a signature on the LAA forms. However, that doesn’t help the fact that you can only get legal aid if P is a party, wishes to be joined as a party and/or is contemplating proceedings. None of those will apply to a lot of the ALR cases, so, I imagine, that means that LAA funding will not be available unless P is, in practice, a party. That may, in effect, just mean that, until the funding issues are resolved, P will be routinely joined as a party, with an ALR. All the other usual LAA rules apply as do the usual rules with regards to private funding and/or seeking undertakings on costs from the relevant public body if legal aid isn’t available.
  • Non LAA practitioners can become ALRs but they cannot accept cases where P is, or may be, eligible for legal aid. The borderline eligibility cases and/or those where P isn’t eligible but will be in the near future (perhaps because of built up savings) will no doubt therefore, need to go to LAA practitioners only).
  • There will be some lag between being invited to act as ALR, and actually being able to accept, because of the work needed to establish LAA eligibility. You will not have funding to carry out that work, so we will be taking over the role, which the OS usually has to deal with, to investigate eligibility without funding being it place – that may, in some of these cases, require a number of letters and calls, which isn’t appealing, but isn’t always too onerous.
  • The guidance specifically reminds ALRs to be mindful of advising/taking forward any linked issues with regards to judicial review and/or damages claims BUT note that as ALR you have no magic status to take such a matter forward and, as in cases now, you would no doubt need to approach someone (perhaps the OS) to act as litigation friend in those other non COP cases if you see something that needs to be progressed. I imagine, if an ALR case became a case that required linked involvement from the OS as litigation friend, the OS would also see good reason to act as litigation friend in the ALR case.
  • Don’t forget to have regard to the case of Re RD when dealing with s21A cases, in the usual way.”
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