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A firm has successfully challenged a 20% late-submission penalty to a legal aid settlement. GT Stewart Solicitors appealed the decision of the determining officer at the Legal Aid Agency in relation to a claim submitted under the advocates’ graduated fees scheme (AGFS).

The firm submitted the claim on 29 November 2022 for a case that concluded on 18 September 2020. Payment was made but a late submission penalty of 20% was applied. The deduction was upheld on redetermination.

Costs Judge Whalan acknowledged that though no reason was advanced for the 26-month delay in submitting the legal aid claim, the context was the firm’s difficulties during the pandemic.

Ruling that a 5% penalty should be applied instead, the judge found the ‘good reason’ extension should apply to the end of 2021 when the lockdown restrictions ‘relaxed progressively until some time in July 2021 when, for practical purposes, the restrictions ceased’. He said: ‘Any business of any size, however, would likely experience some form of ongoing disadvantage, at least for a reasonable period.’

The judge described GT Stewart Solicitors as ‘a large, properly administered business, conducting high volume legal aid business, with consequently significant administrative burdens. Realistically, the post-Covid deficit would have been reasonably ongoing for some time after the formal Covid restrictions expired.’

The judge allowed the appeal and directed that the firm’s AGFS claim should be allowed, subject to a 5% late submission penalty. The firm was also awarded costs of £200.

 

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