Legal Aid Agency
Better case management (BCM) is to be introduced across England and Wales following its use in 8 early adopter Crown Court sites in October and November 2015.
Rollout at all Crown Court sites will take place from 5 January 2016.
At the heart of BCM is the principle that there should only be a single, effective, hearing before trial. This is known as the plea and trial preparation hearing (PTPH).
What do the changes mean?
Defence practitioners, prosecutors and HM Courts & Tribunals Service are expected to engage rapidly after a case has been sent from the magistrates court.
The PTPH normally takes place 28 days after the case has ben sent from the magistrates court. The maximum time allowed is 35 days.
A further case management hearing (FCMH) will only take place:
- for identified complex cases
- where a judge decides the interests of justice require a further hearing
Certain classes of case are exempted from BCM procedure, though not the principle of early engagement. These are:
- cases where witnesses are under 10 years old
- section 28 hearings
- terrorism cases
- murder cases
These new procedures will apply to cases where the date of sending is on or after 5 January 2016.
Key points for defence practitioners
- very important for client to apply for legal aid as soon as initial instructions taken.
- notify both court and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) that you are acting for defendant as soon as legal aid granted
- every case will be responsibility of identifiable person in CPS
Rollout of BCM is taking place in tandem with the introduction ofthe Crown Court Digital Case System (DCS).
This will allow defence practitioners, prosecutors and HMCTS to work electronically with one another in a secure, web-based environment see link below.
What is the driver behind these changes?
The BCM initiative builds on Crown Court recommendations to help deliver speedier justice made by Sir Brian Leveson in his Review of Efficiency in Criminal Proceedings, which was published in January 2015.
The Civil and Criminal Legal Aid (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2015 give effect to these changes and reflect the fact that there will no longer be a plea and case management hearing (PCMH) in Crown Court cases.
Claiming fees during rollout
Guidance on making claims under both the Litigator Graduated Fee Scheme and the Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme is accessible below.