Categorized | Criminal Justice, Legal Aid

Legal aid contracts: what now?

Legal aid contracts: what now?

For the past couple of years the Legal Aid Agency has been fighting a fruitless battle with the legal profession over the legal aid contracts system. Right up to the last minute the Agency was stubbornly protesting that the legal actions that finally buried the contract nonsense would be stoutly pursued.

Then Michael Gove pulled the rug from underneath them, leaving the Agency to put out the following sad little statement:

“The Lord Chancellor has made a written ministerial statement to Parliament setting out a change in policy with regard to criminal legal aid contracting. As a result, the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) will discontinue the procurement process for 2015 Duty Provider Crime Contracts and 2015 Own Client Contracts (including Prison Law and Appeals and Reviews work).

“LAA had secured provision of services for work between 11 January and 31 March 2016 under a contingency extension to the 2010 Standard Crime Contract.

“We will take steps to extend existing contingency contracts to ensure continuity of service until replacement contracting arrangements are procured and implemented.

“LAA will write to all organisations affected to set out what this means for them.”

In his written parliamentary statement, Gove said: “I will review progress on joint work with the profession to improve efficiency and quality at the beginning of 2017, before returning to any decisions on the second fee reduction and market consolidation before April 2017.

“I will also bring forward proposals to ensure the Legal Aid Agency can better support high quality advocacy. Furthermore, I intend to appoint an advisory council of solicitors and barristers to help me explore how we can reduce unnecessary bureaucratic costs, eliminate waste and end continuing abuses within the current legal aid system. More details will follow in due course.”

Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, chair of the Bar Council, said: “The Bar Council has always opposed the two-tier scheme. The decision to scrap the scheme is the right one. It shows that the Lord Chancellor has listened to the legal profession’s concerns about access to justice and is acting upon them”

Steve Hynes, director of the Legal Action Group, said: “In its planning and execution the MoJ has demonstrated shocking incompetence with this tender exercise”

Matt Foot, co-founder of the Justice Alliance, said: “The government’s arrogance to ignore virtually the whole profession and attack access to justice in this cavalier way has been stopped by us standing together.”

Jonathan Smithers, president of the Law Society, is “pleased that the lord chancellor has listened and recognised that the current situation is untenable…The assurance that there will be no competitive tendering in the future gives practitioners greater certainty for the future.”

In the meantime, shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter asked Gove how much the Ministry of Justice had paid in legal fees in relation to the new contracts.

Responding yesterday, justice minister Shailesh Vara, said, to the end of December 2015, the Legal Aid Agency incurred a total of £141,519 in relation to external legal fees associated with the contracts. The external legal advice “assisted the [Government Legal Department] commercial team with the drafting of the 2015 own-client and 2015 duty provider contracts,” adding that it was “not possible to distinguish the cost of work relating to the criminal legal aid contracts incurred by the agency’s internal legal teams from other work undertaken.”

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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