Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Why Call It CDS Direct?

A pilot being run by the Legal Services Commission will begin on 31st October 2005. The pilot is designed to examine whether it is feasible for legal advice to be given by a call centre in less serious cases to people arrested and detained at the Police Station.

The Legal Services Commission has called it's call centre CDS Direct. I strongly object to this name as it is misleading.

CDS Direct stands for Criminal Defence Service Direct. Solicitors firms who do legally aided criminal defence work form the Criminal Defence Service. The Legal Services Commission is also running a pilot called the Public Defender Service which has a handful of offices dotted around the country. These offices are staffed by employees who are paid by the Legal Services Commission. They are public defenders.

Although the Public Defender Services comes under the umbrella of the Criminal Defence Service the vast majority of the CDS is made up of firms who hold a General Criminal Contract - people who are paid legal aid fees instead of being paid directly by the Legal Services Commission.

Most solicitors in private practice objected to the idea of the CDS Direct Pilot. The Legal Services Commission ignored our objections and decided to set up the pilot anyway. When the Legal Services Commission realised that they would not be able to employ duty solicitors from private practice to work in the call centre on a part time basis because it would conflict with their existing work commitments members of the PDS were drafted in. When the Legal Services Commission realised that they may be breaking the rules by using non-solicitors to advise detained people over the telephone where the detained people had been asked if they wanted to speak to a solicitor the LSC simply changed the rules.

I do not know why the Legal Services Commission are still calling this pilot CDS Direct. It perhaps should be called PDS Direct or LSC Direct because it has more to do with those organisations than it does with the majority of the Criminal Defence Service.

So if you are arrested after 31st October 2005 for a very simple matter where legal representatives usually only give legal advice over the telephone your advice will come from the CDS Direct call centre. You will be advised by a person who holds a qualification called the Police Station Qualification but they may or may not be a solicitor. You will probably only get to speak to a solicitor at the CDS Direct call centre if you specifically ask for one.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

How long until the CDS Direct call centre is moved to Bangalore?

Gavin said...

The pilot is supposed to last for 6 months so I will give it 7 months before it moves to Bangalore!

On a more serious note I think it will have to remain in the UK as it has to be staffed by people with UK qualifications so moving it aborad is not really an option in the short term.

Steve said...

You're just sour because the gravy train has stopped or slowed down at least!

A little cheeky I know but how much less do you think you will earn per annum, after this scheme has been introduced? I believe that this is the real reason behind your dismay

Gavin said...

Steve,

I am a little cheesed off that I am still going to have to do the same amount of work for less pay, but the reality of the situation is that this new call centre CDS Direct is likely to cause chaos. For me personally I am unlikely to actually loose any wages/overtime because of the change, if I do loose out then it will be about £300 a year. The cost to all solicitors doing criminal defence work is going to be £22 million. I have no idea how that figure translates to an avergae firm.

The financial side of things is that the Legal Services Commission expect to save £22 million by dealing with telephone advice calls previously dealt with by solicitors. In real terms that means instead of the Legal Services Commission paying solicitors about £30 for dealing with all telephone calls for one case they are going to employ others to do that job. Then when the case is ready the call centre will phone up the solicitor tell them to get down to the Police Station. The solicitor wil be paid £8 if he accepts the case.

What is going to happen is CDS Direct will process the cases coming in from the Police Station. They will then get to a point where the case is ready for interview at the Police Station. The solicitor will then get a call saying go to the Police Station. The solicitor will go to the Police Station where things are likely to get messy. Although the Police may say they are ready to interview that does not in fact mean that a case can actually be dealt with. There are many variable factors like appropriate adults, interpreters, FMEs thaty sometimes cause delays when they do not arrive as expected by the Police.

Because the Legal Services Commission now refuse to pay solicitors for phoning the Police Station (the £8 acceptance fee is for speaking to the call centre to obtain deails of the case) solicitors will turn up to the Police Station on the say so of CDS Direct. When cases are not in fact ready to interview the solicitor will then have to sit around meaning time and money is wasted all because the Legal Services Commission think that a call centre can do the job better and cheaper than solicitors.

CDS Direct is going to be based in the same building as the Duty Solicitor Call Centre. The Duty Solicitor Call Centre already struggle to provide decent information to solicitors about cases so I am very fearful about how CDS Direct is actually going to work.

By the way the gravy train stopped many years ago, in fact it came to a halt before I started working as a solicitor.

Another Constable said...

You say that the only way you get to speak to a solicitor on CDS is if you specifically ask for one - well this is just the same at a police station. Defendants are unaware most of the time that the majority of people coming to the station to give advice are not solicitors.

Gavin said...

But, if you ask to speak to the Duty Solicitor the current rules for everyone outside of the CDS Direct pilot is that a Duty Solicitor must give the initial advice over the telephone to the person detained - although subsequently they can be advised by a non-solicitor.

It just seems bizarre to me that the detained person is offered a duty solicitor and they then speak to someone who is not a solicitor.

Anonymous said...

I am not a solicitor but have advised suspects at the police station for 15 years. A newly qualified conveyancing solicitor could deal with a case on his first day but with respect would not have as much experience as someone in my position.

Anonymous said...

As per PACE code C Para 6.12 a solicitor within the codes means either 1)a currently practising solcitor or 2)an accredited or probationary representative. As only persons in these categories will be staffing the CDS Direct call centre, it really is no different from the current set up at all. Indeed I beleive it will lead to greater monitoring of the quality of advice given over the telephone which will ultimately lead to an increase in the overall levels of service to the client, who is after all, the most important consideration. As anaccredited rep myself for 9 years I can say that in practice it all too often is the case that the 'duty solicitor' on call is merely a figurehead who takes no active part or interest in advising at the police station, instead leaving that to accredited reps to deal with. So in summary I believe the only detriment of this CDS scheme will be to the pockets of the duty solicitors themselves.

Gavin said...

The current rules require that if a duty solicitor is referred a case from the Police station where a person has requested the duty solicitor then they must be advised over the telephone by a duty solicitor (the rules are different for own client work). CDS Direct has circumvented this rule. The definition of a solicitor witin the PACE codes has no application to the initial advice given over the telephone. It is only CDS Direct who have the ability to take cases that would normally be referred to the duty solicitor and provide advice from a non-solicitor. This really annoys me.

I have worked with many fine accredited reps, and there are some who I would rate above some duty solicitors in terms of the knowledge and experience of delaing with Police Station work.

If a duty solicitor deals with a case properly that has bene referred to an accredited rep they are now under a contractual duty when they refer the case to ensure that the accredited rep has adeuqate training and is suitably qualified to deal with the case, they also need to ensure that they receive within 24 hours a written report of the Police Station attendance. If the duty solicitor is doing his job properly they will have to take an active interest in the case.

You say that the only detriment to this system will be to the pockets of duty solicitors. My original post was aimed at trying to dustance the CDS Direct pilot from the rest of us solicitors in private practice. Only time will tell whether this pilot is successful or not.

I still fail to see why the Legal Services Commission call the pilot CDS Direct when it does not involve members of the Criminal Defence Service in the telephone advice, and provides advice in a way that members of the Criminal Defence Service are not allowed to do.

Anonymous said...

You really do not satisfactorily address the issue as to WHY it is you are so anti CDS Direct, or indeed why you feel it remains necessary that a Duty Solicitor be required to provide the inital telephone advice. All of the staff will remain totally independant and either solicitors, normally in private practice or fully accredited reps, with those selected having had considerable real life experience of police station advising - No different from those who would attend the police station to advise in person. These persons are recruited from the ranks of private practice firms and are indeed members of the Criminal Defence Service just as if the system was as it always has been. No doubt, these persons are just as capable as providing the same service as the average Duty Solicitor. There is no change in the type of individual providing telephone advice, only a change in the way it is administered. Which much to many Duty Solicitors chagrin, takes away a lucrative source of income.

In reality, as you will know the initial telephone advice, in preactice, is, in the overwhelming majority of cases, very limited in its nature due to the lack in most stations of a private and secure telephone line to discuss matters with the client. Any decent advisor will of course know this and would advise the client accordingly. Such an advice call usually amounting to an explaination of the procedures and outlining the allegation to the client with the only useful advice usually being to say nothing until advised in person prior to the interview. I fail to see any reasonable justification that it is necessary for this type of advice to be given only by a Duty Solicitor. What is is that the Duty Solicitor can do or say that a suitably qualified advisor at the CDS call centre cannot do? The requirements for a solicitor to attend the interview personally will not change and where a client is in need of a private consultation and assustance during an interview they will be attended by a solicitor as usual. Therefore, in my view, the initial advice call will be same as ever,. and indeed may even be of a higher quality when given by a dedicated and focused CDS direct advisor as opposed to a Duty Solicitor who may have been woken from sleep several times a night having had a long hard day at the office!

The aim of the pilot scheme is to provide a first instance telephone call to a client and to manage the advice requirements of a case until a personal attendance by a solicitor is required. Minor or largely procedural matters that can be concluded without an attendance, such as drunks, drink drives, minor public order fixed penalties and the like will of course be dealt with accordingly. I cannot see that any disbenefit will accrue to the client by this approach. A further aim is to reduce the number of telephone attendances claimed for by Duty Solicitors that cannot really be justified in terms of the fee charged for the call balanced against the effective advice given to the client. As a tax payer I believe this is in all our interests and is a responsible move by the government to reduce unnecessary expenditure. Of course the CDS pilot will also remove the opportunity for certain solicitors to 'milk' the legal aid fund. In my experience there are many whom have benefitted in this way. Too many solicitors make 1 or 2 very short phone calls, of very little practical use in progresssing the case, and then claim a £30 fee for doing so. This simply cannot really be justified as reasonable. Perhaps it would have been a good idea for the LSC to pilot a scheme where they refuse payment for any call that does not directly assist the client or materially progress the case, I wonder how many solicitors would then be upset at the removal of their involvment in the telephone stages of the case? I suspect very few!

Gavin said...

Anonymous,

I will come across as anti-CDS Direct because should a case progress from telephone advice to requring the attendance of a legal representative there are going to be huge problems. I cannot recall if I have expressed my concerns about these problems in my blog before, but I assure you that they are well founded.

I usually find myself trying to defend existing working practices when the LSC puts forward a new proposals because I can forsee problems.

You are right that sometimes the initial advice given over the telephone can be limited. I am not saying that only a duty solicitor should be able to give the initial advice to the Client, but if the LSC can change the rules for their pilot then why does the CDS have to stick to the old rules. I do object, on principle, to the idea that someone is offered the chance to speak to the duty solicitor and is in fact pout through to another person who is not a duty solicitor - all they need to do is change the wording of the rights and entitlements given by the police to say, "Would you like to speak to a legal advisor?"

I think that you are expecting a little too much when you say that the CDS Direct advisors will give a better service than existing duty solicitors. The whole concept of CDS Direct is to deal with a greater volume of advice calls through a smaller number of advisors - does that inspire quality?

Solicitors used to be paid on a per call basis. From memory a routine call was paid at about £4, and an advice call was paid at about £12 (I could be wrong as it was a long time ago). Under that system a solicitor could not 'milk' the system because they were being paid for the work they did. The LSC decided to change the system to a fixed fee for telephone advice. They changed the rules. I have been on duty before when the Police have conducted operations such as trying to catch kerb crawlers. Once arrested the suspect is not interviewed. One evening I dealt with about 11 or 12 suspects and made claims for those calls to the LSC. The calls were dealt with appropriately and proper telephone advice was given. In fact in the vast majority of the cases I was able to advise the suspect on what was likely to happen at Court as I was a solicitor with experience of the Magistrates Courts, and of dealing with thse kind of cases. I do not feel guilty about claiming telephone advice fees for those calls because I did the work, and under the previous funding system I would have been paid even more.

Solicitors who do make short phone calls that are routine calls should not be claiming the telephone advice fixed fee because they need to provide 'advice' on the phone to qualify.

You say, "Perhaps it would have been a good idea for the LSC to pilot a scheme where they refuse payment for any call that does not directly assist the client or materially progress the case, I wonder how many solicitors would then be upset at the removal of their involvment in the telephone stages of the case? I suspect very few!" The idea of refusing to pay for phone calls that do not progress the case is the fixed fee system.

Could I suggest that if you want to have a more detailed discussion of the CDS Direct system that you register and post a message over at www.criminalsolicitor.net. You sound like you have some good arguments to thrash out. This blog has limited functionality compared to the Criminal Solicitor Dot Net web site for discussion of thses topics.

A regular plod said...

So, the malaise that started with CPS Direct is spreading. Glad we're not the only ones who will suffer telephone torture.

Plod.