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New Terms and Conditions relating to Legal Aid Online
Monday, Feb 06, 2017
We have prepared some additional information on the new Legal Aid Online Terms and Conditions (Ts&Cs) following feedback from the Law Society of Scotland’s Legal Aid Team at the end of last year.
From 8 March any user logging into LAOL will be prompted to read and accept the new Ts&Cs. Details are given below about the procedure for this.
We have also reviewed the Ts&Cs and provided further information on two areas, which we hope will be useful.
Terms and Conditions
Legal Aid Online (LAOL) is a purpose built system available to solicitors without cost. We have invested significantly in the development of the online system, and the continued effective and resilient operation of the system to provide a service continuously to thousands of users across the country is of paramount importance.
In common with most web-delivered services, this requires a clear statement as to the basis upon which users can interact with the system, and proper regard to responsibilities and expectations in relation to the system. The primary purpose remains the continued and resilient operation of the system, but clarity and certainty on a range of incidental matters is also important.
Terms and conditions are used almost universally in relation to web-delivered services. Those used by the Law Society of Scotland and Registers of Scotland are not at all dissimilar to those for Legal Aid Online.
Terms and conditions for Legal Aid Online have been in place since the outset and all current users of the system have accepted the existing terms and conditions, which have been in place since at least 2008.
A copy of the current terms and conditions is available here.
The terms and conditions for legal aid online only relate to the use of the online resource and matters connected to that. They are there to protect or reduce risk to the system, but also to make clear to users what is or can be expected of or by them, both when things go well, and when they do not.
They apply to the application and accounting interactions between solicitors and SLAB but they do not exist in isolation: other important factors shape how we discharge the obligations we have as the administrators of legal aid in Scotland.
The statutory and regulatory framework of legal aid in Scotland sets out our responsibilities and duties and, more generally, SLAB as a public body is required to act and exercise its powers and functions reasonably and rationally.
It is these higher level considerations, rather than the terms and conditions themselves, that shape solicitors’ legitimate expectations of both our service and our approach to the application of the terms and conditions.
The New Terms and Conditions
Over the time that Legal Aid Online has been in use, it has evolved significantly. There have also been changes in the way that the profession has conducted its business, especially as more and more solicitors establish electronic communication as a primary method.
We have also over time had to develop approaches to various specific situations, for example, where a solicitor leaves a firm suddenly, and perhaps not in a planned and amicable fashion.
We reviewed the terms and conditions in light of these changes. Areas needing attention included:
- Provision to recognise that system users or potential users were not just solicitors, but also staff of the firm and third parties out with the firm, such as law accountants
- Better provisions for record retention, to preserve (and not prejudice) SLAB’s audit, compliance, authentication and enforcement functions
- Establishment of clearer and more robust arrangements for the solicitor’s internal administration through the system administrator (a post which had always existed, although not specified in the terms and conditions)
- Changes to the personnel within firms
- More developed provisions relating to data protection, freedom of information, etc.
- Provision for audit where appropriate, e.g. where a service user’s engagement with, or use of, the services is unsatisfactory or problematic
- Other general improvements and development of terms in relation to existing provision
The new terms and conditions were developed to give regard to these factors and now more closely reflect those used in comparable organisations and services.
The Law Society Legal Aid Team contacted us in November 2016 to discuss the new terms and conditions. We had considered comments made by the Law Society in 2015 when initial draft terms and conditions were previously shared with them.
To allow solicitors further time to familiarise themselves with the terms and conditions and for us to consider some of the points raised by the Society and to issue this further communication, we advised that sign-up to the terms and conditions would take place this year.
We have now considered matters and have identified two areas where further information may be useful. These are as follows:
- We have reviewed our requirements for retention periods for the online declarations (formerly known as mandates). This is dealt with at 5.1. While there remain reasons to support the position initially taken, we consider that with other mitigations, we are able to reduce the period stipulated by the terms and conditions from seven years, to three years from the date of completion of the case/matter to which the declaration relates. Retention must be on paper for the duration of the case, but following completion may be electronic (paper retention for the whole period remains an option). We will continue to reassess our requirements in respect of document retention, and the current position may change.
- Section 14 of the terms and conditions deals with audit. We are happy to make clear that no periodic or scheduled audit of all firms will happen. The power to audit exists to enable us to gather information whether in relation to general monitoring and development of the system or as a result of individual firm/solicitor issues, and to offer assistance, and as appropriate take steps where issues have arisen for a firm or individuals within the firm. All monitoring, development and steps will be concerned to address and ensure the proper continued use and resilience of the system. Due regard is and will continue to be given to the importance of LAOL for solicitors.
Clauses 5.1. and 14 of the terms and conditions have been amended, and the new terms and conditions are available here.
Solicitors are invited to read the terms and conditions in advance of the implementation date and consider them in the light of the foregoing, which is intended to help you understand the context, content and effect of the terms.
Next Steps - What you need to do
The first time you log into the system after 8 March 2017 you will be presented with the new Terms and Conditions and asked to read them. You should then select the field available, confirming that you have read and accept the terms and conditions. Acceptance is required to use the system. If the terms are not accepted at that time, the services will not be available. A user who does not accept the terms will be asked to accept them at any subsequent attempted log in, and will have to do so before being able to use the system.
You can log in at any time within the 90 days and sign up to the new Ts & Cs.
What if I don’t accept the new Ts&Cs
If you have not logged in and accepted the new Ts&Cs within 90 days from 8 March 2017 your account will be locked until you do so. This means that no one will be able to submit anything to SLAB on your behalf.
If you log into the system at any time after the initial 90 days you will be asked to accept the Ts&Cs. If you do so, your account will be unlocked and you will be able to use the system, as will other users authorised to do so on your behalf, assuming they have also accepted the Ts&Cs. If you do not currently have a login for Legal Aid Online you should arrange for this through your Firm’s administrator.
For more information, please contact:
Director of Corporate Services and Accounts
Legal Aid Online
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