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Memorandum of Understanding

between

National Centre for Domestic Violence (“NCDV”) and its Panel Firms

 

The aim of NCDV is to provide support and assistance to survivors of domestic violence in securing an injunction regardless of their financial circumstances, race, gender or sexual orientation.  Working with the police, our panel solicitors and other support agencies the aim is to help survivors secure an injunction in the shortest time possible.

The link below is to our landing page which incorporates comments from survivors, the police and other support agencies about the work we do.

www.ncdv.org.uk

 

Panel Membership, Criteria for Joining & Removing a Law Firm from a NCDV Panel

The panel operated by NCDV (“the Panel”) is open to any law firm to join.  The essential prerequisites are:

  1. the law firm undertakes family work, in particular domestic violence work
  2. it has a legal aid contract
  3. it can help a survivor to secure an injunction quickly, effectively, compassionately and without delay following the allocation of the case
  4. whether or not the law has a pro bono policy for supporting and assisting survivors of domestic violence who are not financially eligible for legal aid

NCDV:

  1. will operate a panel of law firms covering courts in England. The link below shows the courts that the panel covers and the law firms on it [to be inserted]
  2. it shall in its absolute discretion determine the number of law firms on the panel
  3. membership onto the panel will not be influenced by the payment of any fee
  4. in determining the number of law firms that go on the panel it will consider, without limiting its discretion, the following:
    1. the number of courts in the location
    2. the number of enquiries from survivors in that location
  5. membership of the panel will be reviewed bi-annually. NCDV will consider the following when deciding to admit a new law firm, remove a law firm, increase the number of law firms on the panel:
    1. the matters mentioned at 3 a & b above
    2. the quality and timeliness of the law firm’s service in helping a survivor to secure an injunction
  1. cases will be allocated to the law firm located nearest to the survivor; if that law firm is not able to take on the case and act upon it within a period of 24 hours then it will be allocated to another law firm on the panel, nearest to the survivor

 

Work of NCDV

receives a significant number of queries from the police and other support agencies such as Refuge, Womens Aid et al.  When we receive an enquiry:

  1.  we will use our reasonable endeavours to call the survivor and determine his/her means eligibility by using the LAA online civil legal aid calculator and merits.
  2. if the means test returns a result that is not acceptable to the survivor but the case has merit we will offer to support and assist the survivor on a pro bono basis
  3. if the survivor is eligible for legal aid, we will ascertain
  4. the location of the court nearest to the survivor
  5. the panel law firms that are registered to that court

and determine which firm is to be allocated the case based on the proximity of the victim to the law firm. This will not be determined or influenced by the firm paying a fee.

  1. we will send the firm brief details of the survivor and the respondent to enable them to do a conflict check and decide if they are able to take on the case.
  2. Irrespective of whether or not they are able to act for the survivor, they will respond to our email (draft attached) within the hour, indicating whether or not they can take on the case and, if they are able to act, whether or not they would like us to prepare a bundle of documents for their use comprising:
    1. Witness Statement
    2. FL401
    3. Notice of Acting
    4. Draft Order
    5. Statement Questionnaire
    6. Triage Questionnaire
  3. We will make a charge of £178.50 plus VAT for the preparation of the bundle (the “Bundle Fee”).  It is vital that the firm understands that the Bundle Fee is not a disbursement that can be reclaimed from the Legal Aid Agency when submitting their claim for costs.  We will waive the Bundle Fee if the survivor does not proceed with the case
  4. For the avoidance of doubt the bundle fee cannot be refunded by the LAA and BCDV are not acting as the solicitors agent for the purposes of the Standard Civil Contract
  5. If we are instructed by the law firm to prepare the bundle we will produce the above documents and email them to the law firm within two working days of their email instruction
  6. It is the law firm’s responsibility to check that the bundle of documents that we have prepared for their use is fit for purpos
  7. If the law firm does not want us to prepare the bundle of documents we will email to them by return a completed Triage Questionnaire in the form attached.
  8. Please note once an order has been obtained for the victim that law firm can use our process serving service which attracts a fixed fee of £100 plus VAT.  One of the benefits of this service is that the details of the order (in particular the details of the survivor and the respondent) are entered on our ASSIST database which is accessible by the police and the CPS.  This affords the survivor an increased level of protection so that in the event of further abuse the police can check the database for the terms of the order and take such appropriate action as it deems fit.  Other process servers are not able to access the ASSIST database.  There is, however, no obligation for law firms to use this service.

 

Panel Firms

Law firms:

  1. are under no obligation to accept an allocation of a case from us, and should only do so if they are satisfied that it is appropriate to do so and that they will be able to ensure that it is conducted to the requisite professional standards
  2. are under no obligation to use any of our services in return for the allocation of a case
  3. have full responsibility for the conduct of the case and is retained by the survivor and will take instructions from the survivor
  4. will review and finalise all documents with the survivor, howsoever prepared
  5. will observe the Legal Aid Agency’s 2018 Standard Civil Contract Standard Terms in carrying out the instructions of the survivor
  6. will abide by the following code of conduct (“the Charter”) which is set out below:

 

The Charter is non-binding but is written to ensure law firms working with NCDV adhere to the highest quality standards so that our service users and those that refer survivors to us can be assured we are securing for the vulnerable the best protection possible.

  1. Care and consideration. We deal with vulnerable survivors of domestic violence and abuse and fully expect that they will be treated with compassion, respect and integrity. Occasionally, the stress survivors are placed under may cause them to present in a way which may be challenging. We expect law firms specialising in the field of domestic abuse to ensure they are specifically trained and able to help our service users with appropriate adjustments to their procedures to ensure that as many survivors as possible can be properly helped.  Law firms found to have been rude or failed to show a professional level of empathy may be excluded.
  1. Timely working practices. Survivors are referred to us because of the speed of our service and law firms on our panel should use their best endeavours to respond to the needs of the survivor as quickly as possible. These are emergency situations requiring emergency responses. We expect a law firm to call back survivors within an hour and to use their best endeavours to progress a case to court as quickly as possible. Firms regularly failing to meet this may be excluded.
  1. We expect a high quality service from all our panel firms. They must check the documents including the facts and merits of each case, give full and holistic advice and remain fully compliant with the robust quality and procedural obligations placed upon them by the courts, the Legal Aid Agency and their regulatory body the Solicitors Regulation Authority. They are responsible for adhering strictly to funding and best practice guidance and must take responsibility for adapting to changes in case law and practice. We expect our panel firms to report any serious quality breaches to us and we may exclude a firm who has a serious sanction imposed on their contract by the LAA, or has had an adverse finding made by the SRA or whose casework or preparation has been justifiably criticised by the client, court or a relevant third party.
  1. Equal Opportunity. We would expect that our panel firms will not prejudice victims that are unable to afford a legal aid contribution. We provide pro bono assistance to thousands of victims and we would expect panel solicitors to have a pro bono policy.
  1. Serving documents. It is critical that respondents are served in accordance with the Family Justice Council’s guidelines. Proper service ensures the desired police reaction, if the order is breached. In the interests of protecting our clients and preserving their right to action in the event that an order is breached firms not following the guidelines may be excluded.
  1. Our service extends to the referrer, and we have created a feedback system that updates referrers on the status of a case. Certain trigger points create an automatic update which satisfies the referrers need for information to offer support to the victim. Keeping our referrers informed is an extremely important part of our process. To do this we need case updates from our panel firms. However, firms should be fully aware of their obligations for client privacy and make any necessary arrangements with regards to any privacy rights of the victims and any privacy regulations set down by authorities. Firms not providing timely updates may be excluded.