Categorized | Legal Aid

Best Value Tendering Part 1

Best Value Tendering Part 1

Criminal firms have seen the introduction of fixed fee schemes for police work and a standard fee system in magistrates courts following a review of legal services by Lord Carter three years ago. Now the consultations on proposals for competitive tendering by criminal defence work firms have come to an end, with solicitors’ firms across the country voicing strong opposition to the proposed system.

The Law Society, the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association are all gravely concerned about BVT as currently proposed by the LSC, involving a limited scheme which would cover lower crime work in police stations and the Magistrates’ Courts. This would probably be extended should it prove successful. BVT involves competitive tendering based on price for criminal defence work, as solicitors’ firms will bid for blocks of work, with the lowest bidder getting the work. Strong concerns are expressed that criminal legal aid firms could be drastically reduced, meaning the number of firms available to clients will diminish, as the already financially vulnerable supplier base is put at risk. “The widespread use of BVT is likely to… deny clients access to many competent and dedicated solicitors who want to serve them. The bidding processes proposed are opaque and not suited to the commissioning of professional services, where the freedom of the individual is put at risk”, said Paul Marsh, Law Society President.

In their response to the proposals, the Law Society said that they will have a hugely detrimental impact on the quality of representation in police stations, and thereby damage the criminal justice system as a whole. Of equal concern is the failure to conduct a full and proper impact assessment, taking account of the potential disproportionate impact on women and BME practitioners. Desmond Browne QC, the Chairman of the Bar, said that “we cannot afford to sacrifice the present robust system for a scheme which lacks all economic justification, and which will have a disproportionate impact on BME practitioners. The LSC’s failure properly to assess the impact on BME practitioners is potentially discriminatory and may be unlawful; it has a statutory duty to avoid discrimination and promote equality of opportunity, and it has comprehensively failed to comply with this requirement”.

Speaking at a conference organised by the Legal Action Group to celebrate 60 years of legal aid, justice department minister Lord Bach said that BVT is “not a simple cost cutting exercise. It’s aimed at securing a sustainable, effective and efficient supplier base”. In an interview with the ‘Guardian’ he acknowledged that his policies are deeply unpopular among many former colleagues, adding that “I have to do what I can to ensure the legal aid is spent in the best possible way, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

The Law Society’s response to the Legal Services Commission’s consultation on best value tendering for CDS contracts 2010 can be found at:-
http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/secure/file/180185/e:/teamsite-deployed/documents/templatedata/Internet%20Documents/Government%20proposals/Documents/bvt_response180609.pdf

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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