Categorized | Criminal Justice, Legal Aid

Defeat in the Court of Appeal

Defeat in the Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal today gave the go-ahead for the government’s controversial legal aid reforms by dismissing an appeal by the Law Society and practitioner groups.

In the words of the judgement: “In view of the rational and lawful evaluation of the consultation responses made by the Lord Chancellor, it was not incumbent on him to investigate the current underlying facts in any greater detail than he did.

The judgment concluded that the lord chancellor was rationally entitled to assess that the “admittedly broad brush approach” he adopted at the end of March 2014 in relation to costs of bidding for duty provider contracts was a reasonable one. On the process of consulting with service providers – the basis of last year’s High Court challenge – the Court of Appeal said “it was not incumbent on [the lord chancellor] to investigate the current underlying facts in any greater detail than he did.”

The Court of Appeal refused to extend an injunction suspending the tender process. The Law Society and the Associations are seeking to lodge an application with the Supreme Court for permission to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision, and get the application heard on Monday. The injunction expires today.

Society president Andrew Caplen said: “The Court of Appeal decision is a devastating blow. We remain concerned that vulnerable people may not be able to obtain legal representation if they are accused of wrongdoing.”

Robin Murray, vice-chair of the CLSA, said; “It is a matter of enormous disappointment that the appeal brought by the Associations and The Law Society has been defeated.” Jonathan Black, president of the LCCSA, said the group was ‘gutted’ by this morning’s decision. He said: “While the appeal court has found the devastating carve-up of solicitor representation is technically legal, we and many others believe it’s immoral. We’ll do everything we can to continue the fight.”

The Legal Aid Agency has issued a statement that: “ Following the Court of Appeal’s decision today that the Duty Provider Contract tender process and consultation are lawful, the Invitation to Tender for those organisations eligible to apply for a Duty Provider Contract will continue on Friday 27 March 2015 and will close at 12 noon on Tuesday 5 May 2015.

“Now that the injunction has been lifted and the tender will continue, and we have set a new deadline for tender applications. The closing date for applications has been amended to maintain an overall nine week tender window for this stage of the procurement process. Work under this contract is now due to start on 11 January 2016.”

There was never much doubt that the lord chancellor would press ahead with his plans if he was successful in the Court of Appeal. This is a subject which is close up and personal after the many rebuffs he has received from appeal courts. Purdah will have been far from his mind. A close run thing, the statutory period for tenders of nine weeks expires just two days before election day. So it will be for the incoming administration whether or not to proceed. The Labour party has said it would abandon the contracts if elected.

The full text of the judgement Neutral Citation Number: [2015] EWCA Civ 230 can be found at:
https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/law-society-v-lord-chancellor-judgment.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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