LEGAL AID HANDBOOK 2015/16 Ed Vicky Ling and Simon Pugh (2nd ed Legal Action Group, September 2015 – £60)
This is a remarkable book, by any standards. First it succeeds in combining together an introduction to civil (and family) and criminal legal aid in one concise volume; and to explain what has become an absurdly complex amalgam of primary and secondary legislation; of guidance and contract terms; and, now, of a burgeoning case law.
Second it does all this within a paperback which is about the same size as the pre-Access to Justice Act 1999 ‘Legal Aid Handbook’ (a source book published by: Law Society, and then the Legal Aid Board). Much credit must go to Legal Action Group for its second edition publication (price: £60).
I tested the book by reference to exceptional case funding and remuneration (how lawyers get paid: a word, by the way, which could have been in the index). As I read the chapter ‘Getting paid [a much better term than ‘remuneration’] for civil and family work’, I thought how useful would have been a Glossary; I looked in the front of the book; and – another plus: there it was at p xxxvii. The chapter covers all angles of payment with typical clarity; but, again, shows the mind-boggling complexity of the 2013 scheme.
Exceptional case funding (ECF) is up-to-date; and that, in the case of a fast-moving target is another point of credit for the authors and publishers. It includes assessment of the seminal IS v The Director of Legal Aid Casework & Anor  EWHC 1965 (Admin), a judgment of Collins J of only three months ago. The subject is fully explored, in a way which was not open to the authors for the first edition.
Any legal aid practitioner must have his book, and if possible should find time to read carefully the sections which apply to his/her practice (ie not just use the Handbook as a reference book). And then my soap-box: practising lawyers have a habit of looking only at the surface of a scheme; that is for only as much as is demanded to get the job done. This is fair enough, up to a point. But….
Our job requires us always to test the legality of a Government scheme or of court rules. And if secondary legislation (eg regs, rules or guidance) are unlawful, we must challenge them (and any help on such a challenge can be found in another LAG book: on judicial review).
If this book gets us all back into the source material (eg on ECF: LASPOA 2012 s 10(3) and Collins J in IS (above)) it will surely help us to do the job all the better, for our clients. That is what we are trained to do, and we owe it to our clients to do it – especially under so fiscally vicious a government as the present one. Only we can help those who now need help.
And if Mr Corbyn is setting up a review of the legal aid scheme, I urge LAG to send each member of the Labour group so entrusted a copy of this book; and to test them on it after the Christmas parliamentary break.