PCT is dead

PCT is dead

In another major U-turn, justice secretary Chris Grayling today confirmed that he has abandoned Price Competitive Tendering (PCT). This would have awarded contracts to the lowest bidder and was a central plank of the Ministry of Justice’s cost-cutting criminal legal aid reforms.

The dropping of PCT is the MoJ’s second major climbdown over changes to legal aid. It has already abandoned proposals that would have prevented defendants from choosing which solicitor represents them. It is all some reward for the intense lobbying of the united legal profession.

The first climb-down made the second almost inevitable. Grayling had said that he did not accept his decision to retain client choice would cause the whole of the planned criminal legal aid reforms to unravel, but allowing client choice would have meant that equal shares of work between providers could not be guaranteed.

Coincidentally it also gets him off an embarrassing hook. He has called in the City of London police to investigate alleged fraud by Serco staff working on a £285m contract to transport prisoners to and from courts across London and East Anglia. Last month he asked the Serious Fraud Office to investigate potential overcharging by tens of millions of pounds by the private security company G4S on a £700m contract for the electronic tagging of offenders. Both suspect firms would have been major contenders for PCT contracts.

But the overall cost savings have still to be met and the MoJ propose that legal aid fees will be cut by 17.5% across the board. Residency tests will be introduced for civil legal aid, with only those who have lived in the UK for more than 12 months eligible. Income restrictions will be put in place – those earning more than £3,000 per month after mortgage and food costs will not be entitled to aid. There will be a cap on contracts for duty solicitor work at police stations, and 11,000 cases brought by prisoners will no longer be eligible.

On judicial review, Grayling said the mechanism has expanded beyond what it was intended to do, but is often used as a public relations tool or for ‘grandstanding’ and too many cases are unsuccessful. He did not accept that the proposed changes posed any constitutional issues.

Grayling announced a new, brief consultation exercise. This consultation period lasts from 5 September to 18 October 2013.
The new consultation ensures that all those solicitors who currently provide criminal legal aid work to their own clients will continue to be able to do so, as long as they meet minimum quality requirements. MoJ is also seeking views on an updated tendering model for duty work, such as in police stations. This model would be based on quality, and implementation would be timed to give the market more opportunity to prepare.

Steve Hynes, the director of the Legal Action Group, said that the MoJ “will keep the existing number of suppliers in the system at a time when there’s a decreasing volume of work. You will get the same number of providers scrambling for a lower volume of cases. The government will still save its £220m while some law firms will go to the wall because they won’t have sufficient work. Fee cuts of up to 30% in high-costs cases means the government has barristers squarely in its sights.”
The consultation paper ‘Transforming Legal Aid: Next steps’ can be found at:

https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-legal-aid-next-steps/consultation/intro/view

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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One Response to “PCT is dead”

  1. Carl Woolf says:

    Is a 17.5 percent fee reduction across the board, when we have already had massive cuts of around 30%, really such a victory?

    Lots of firms will still go bankrupt.

    We are still the only area of law not to have had an increase in fees for over a decade. Rises in line with inflation mean nothing to criminal legal aid lawyers. I wager no Minister or civil servant would agree to forego pay increases in line with inflation or such a substantial salary cut.

    In real terms the government pays little more than the minimum wage already for work that fights to protects people’s liberty and to lawyers who have spent years and money investing in training and studying.

    What the profession really needs is an increase in rates to encourage the brightest and most able to come into this area of work and to keep those involved already from leaving the area and inevitably the profession.

    The cuts are ridiculous and the fight should go on….

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