Categorized | Civil Law, Legal Aid

Law Society prepares for legal action over civil tender results

Law Society prepares for legal action over civil tender results

The Law Society found itself on the horns of a dilemma when the recent tender for civil and family legal aid work sparked a row with the LSC. Just over half the firms bidding for family contracts were successful, and the Society says this means businesses will close and people may find it difficult to get a lawyer, especially in rural areas. The new contracts are due to start on 14 October.

A statement by Law Society president Linda Lee states that the result of the tender would see the number of family law firms offering legal aid reduced from 2,400 to 1,300, with the loss of many highly expert lawyers from the legal aid system, and the development of significant geographical gaps and shortages of services. But she goes on to say: “This is an issue that has divided practitioners. Of those firms who have succeeded in obtaining a contract many are satisfied with the outcome, and some but by no means all, would prefer it if nothing was done to disturb the result. There are others who although they are uneasy with the impact on unsuccessful bidders take the same view because they conclude this will cause the least disruption. Many firms that have failed to obtain a contract face having to make redundancies or even close their firms. There is no one course of action that is ‘in the profession’s interests’”. The Society accepts that, whether it chooses to act or not, a proportion of its members would be unhappy with the decision, and are acutely aware of the difficulty taking action may cause those successful firms who are planning to expand their businesses either by volume, new work type or a new geographic location.

Linda Lee goes on to say: “As a profession we accept and are proud of an ethical code that is higher than pure commercial considerations. We have a duty to protect the public interest. A reduction in access to justice cannot be in the public interest particularly when it affects the most vulnerable people in society, those who are seeking to establish their basic rights.” Therefore the Society has sent a pre-action protocol letter to the  LSC, challenging the lawfulness of its decision to proceed with the allocation of family law contracts. The Society believe the contracts offered would leave many areas with a grossly inadequate supply, and consider that the family justice system will be seriously impoverished by the loss of a significant cadre of highly skilled and dedicated practitioners who are willing to provide publicly funded services to those whose need is most acute.

The President also asserts that that the LSC’s Equalities Impact Assessment was fundamentally flawed, with no account taken of the fact that the majority of applicants for domestic violence injunctions and ancillary relief are women, who are likely to suffer additional difficulties in securing the services they need because of the reduction in the number of firms available. The Society also fears that there will be significant disruption in the short term as unsuccessful firms close down their departments, either by force of economic circumstances or because their staff have migrated to successful firms. Many clients may find themselves losing their representation in the middle of their cases, and will then have to try to find a new lawyer, with no assurance that successful bidders will be willing or able to take on all of these migrating clients. The LSC has been asked to extend the existing contracts for family law for a short period in order to give it time to conduct a review addressing these issues.

Linda Lee concludes: “It is for the LSC to ensure compliance with its legal obligations, and if it does not do so, and access to justice for vulnerable clients is threatened as a result, we are ready to take all appropriate steps to secure such compliance. I hope that can be done quickly, effectively and amicably.”

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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