Tag Archive | "Criminal Legal Aid"

New criminal justice advisory council


When the lord chancellor announced on 28 January that he would not press ahead with dual contracting for criminal legal aid he said: “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.”

The lord chancellor announced that he had “an ambitious programme of reform to our courts planned for the rest of this parliament. It is designed to make justice swifter and more certain. The reforms to our legal system, including taking more work out of courts, moving from a paper-based system to a digital platform, tackle unnecessary costs and reduce harmful delay, and these reforms will need the support of all in the legal profession.”

The new council is intended to be one of the mechanisms to assist him in understanding how these reforms could be effected.

The council’s full membership has not yet been announced, but its chair will be Gary Bell QC of No5 Chambers. Off to a flying start, Bell has invited anybody involved in the criminal justice system throughout England and Wales to contact him if they have matters they want the council to consider.

Writing for the Gazette online, Bell said: “The council will include a mix of barristers and solicitors as well as representatives from the Legal Aid Agency and the judiciary. Because it is very important that your views are reflected in as efficient and timely a way as possible it is essential that the membership of the panel reflects this need in its composition and location so as to be as efficient and focused as possible, but it is the views of individual professionals involved in the criminal justice system throughout the length and breadth of the jurisdiction that the panel would like to see.

“It is not a substitute for the Bar Council and the representative bodies who engage with the lord chancellor on a regular basis but an additional and important source of assistance.”

He goes on to write: “The council will not consist of members of representative bodies. It will be composed of individual barristers and solicitors in private practice who can express their own views without any external pressure brought to bear upon them. In that respect the council will be unique in that any findings and recommendations it makes will be those of the combined profession rather than representing the narrow interests of one branch or the other.”

He sees that the job of the council is to “consider all matters affecting efficiency, delay and waste within the system and make recommendations to the lord chancellor as to how best they can be eliminated. It will draw to the lord chancellor’s attention what it considers to be errors or abuses emanating from the system itself and any it encounters coming from the professions. In other words, it will be open and fair to all sides but also blunt and realistic.”

His article concludes: “The panel is not concerned with personalising criticisms, wherever they could legitimately be made in any part of the criminal justice system, but in addressing issues: using the people who really know – and that is you.”

Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: “We would encourage our members to engage with this advisory council, as it is a good way to ensure that our concerns about inefficiencies in the criminal justice system are made known at the highest levels of government.”

Posted in Criminal JusticeComments (0)

LAA loses legal aid contract challenge


At a hearing in the High Court last week the Legal Aid Agency’s (LAA) decision not to allow a London firm, MK Law Solicitors, to join an additional duty solicitor scheme was quashed.

The case arose out of reforms sought to be brought into effect by the Lord Chancellor to the provision of criminal legal aid. A policy of two-tier contracting was proposed to be introduced whereby criminal legal aid solicitors would be able to provide services to their own clients under an “own client contract” and separately under a “duty contract.” Awarded by competition, the duty contracts gave firms of solicitors that were successful the right to be on the duty legal aid rota in 85 procurement areas around the country.

Duty contracts allowed a limited number of firms to represent new entrants to the criminal justice system. Some 1,600 firms secured own client contracts. The intention of duty contracts for duty provider work (DPW) was to offer some 527 DPW contracts with the objective of forcing consolidation in the criminal legal aid market. It was hoped that if fewer larger firms performed DPW that service could be provided at less cost to the LAA.

The process of introducing the new dual contracts scheme was controversial and the results of the tendering process were the subject of litigation. On 28 January 2016 the Lord Chancellor announced in a written statement to Parliament that the dual contracting model was not to be proceeded with. The LAA was to extend current contracts so as to ensure continuing service until replacement contracts came into force late in 2016.

MK Law Solicitors had won 10 duty provider contracts in London, including four in north London. After the new 2015 crime contracts were scrapped, MK Law Solicitors sought to join additional duty schemes in the London Borough of Hackney and surrounding areas until replacement contracts come into force.

The judgment, MK Law Solicitors v Lord Chancellor, states that admission to the additional duty scheme was contingent on successful firms meeting certain criteria set out by the agency. The claimant’s case was that it came within the criteria set out; it was successful in the duty provider contract, had opened an office in Hackney at 2 Underwood Row, and had employed supervisors and staff to deliver criminal legal aid at its Hackney office.

The LAA said the firm was not eligible to be included in any additional duty scheme because the firm’s north London office had been operational since 2012 but this was contested. Ruling that the agency erred in its application of the criteria, Mrs Justice Patterson DBE said it was ‘clear from the evidence’ that the north London office was set up to be able to provide advice to clients if required. There was no contractual requirement that an office had to be manned and open for walk-in trade.

Patterson accepted the firm’s submission that to impose such a requirement was both irrational and a breach of contract as it had no ability to deliver criminal legal aid services from Hackney until the new contract had commenced. The firm invested further time and money to establish a fully functioning office in anticipation of the original duty contract start date. The office became fully operational in December 2015.

Patterson’s conclusion was that the evidence was sufficient to lead to a quashing order of the decision of the LAA regarding MK Law Solicitors. The full text of the judgement is at :

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2016/1194.html

Posted in Legal Aid, Legal Practice ManagementComments (0)

Bill for abandoned legal aid contracts


The government admits to spending more than £400,000 on an abortive attempt to impose new criminal legal aid reforms. This was revealed in response to a request made by the Gazette to the Ministry of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Gazette sought a response to three queries. The first query asked “how much money the Ministry of Justice/Legal Aid Agency spent on the procurement process for 2015 duty provider crime contracts, from 27 November 2014 (when the procurement process opened) until 28 January 2016 (when justice secretary Michael Gove announced in a written ministerial statement that he would not go ahead with the introduction of the new dual contracting system)?”

The Legal Aid Agency’s information governance team said the procurement tender process was ‘one component’ of a ‘larger’ Legal Aid Transformation (LAT) programme, for which the agency has incurred a total of £5.5m in one-off implementation costs on the ‘entire’ programme since its inception.

The programme ran from 2013/14, covering initiatives such as reforms related to prison law, restrained assets, judicial review payments, civil fees, and crime fees and competition. The £5.5m figure includes three cost categories which the agency said can be ‘separately identified as directly related to the crime tender’. These are:

– External legal fees of £13,565, associated with drafting the criminal legal aid contracts, incurred between 27 November 2014 and 28 January 2016,

– Legal support on the procurement and assessment process, which the agency said was distinct from legal work, incurred a cost of £125,933.

– Agency staff incurred a cost of £271,574.

The Gazette’s second query asked how much the Ministry of Justice had spent defending the judicial review brought by the Fair Crime Contracts Alliance and around 100 claims issued by law firms in accordance with part 7 of the Civil Procedure Rule.

The LAA went to great lengths to detail the pros and cons of revealing such information, but concluded: “We reached the view that, on balance, the public interest is better served by withholding this information under Section 31(1)(c) and Section 43(2) of the Act at
this time….In this case, we believe that releasing the information would be likely to prejudice both the administration of justice as well as the Department’s commercial interests”

The Gazette’s third query asked “What does the Ministry of Justice/Legal Aid Agency plan to do with documents from the procurement process that show the marking by the assessors and moderators of all the applicant firms’ bids?”

The LAA responded that “No specific arrangements have been made concerning this documentation. Storage/disposal of documents will be in line with the LAA’s corporate retention policies.”

The quoted figure of just over £400k must be treated with suspicion. The cost of the aborted litigation that the LAA refuses to put a figure to must have been significant. And that’s not to mention the large number of LAA staff who worked full time on this project, the very expensive road shows, the strikes and disruptions of courts and other costs.

The pig-headedness of the unlamented former Lord Chancellor will undoubtedly have cost more than any hoped for savings.

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

Any chance of compensation?


Following Michael Gove’s announcement that he was abandoning a new contracting regime for criminal legal aid, some criminal defence firms are considering whether to seek compensation from the government.

While welcoming the decision not to go ahead with the introduction of the dual contracting system, shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter told the House of Commons: “This has been an appalling use of taxpayers’ money. It has posed an existential threat to a fundamental part of our legal system, and it has caused uncertainty, failure and distress to thousands of hard-working small businesses throughout the country.” Read the full story

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

Legal aid contract challenges extended to May


At a hearing on 21 December 2015 it was decided that challenges to the government’s tender process for criminal legal aid will come to court towards the middle of next year. A judicial review, sought by the Fair Crime Contracts Alliance, will be heard in the divisional court by Lord Justice Laws and Sir Kenneth Parker.

More than 100 individual procurement law challenges, sought in accordance with part 7 of the Civil Procedure Rules, will be heard in the Technology and Construction Court by Parker. It was agreed that the judicial review will commence on 7 April and is expected to last seven days. A hearing for the part 7 claims will commence on 3 May and is expected to finish on 16 May. Read the full story

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

The Horns of a Dilemma


Criminal legal aid solicitors are at risk of breaching regulatory requirements whatever they do.

On one hand they are having to deal with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which is reminding them of their professional obligations while they are involved in their ‘difficult commercial dispute.’ Read the full story

Posted in Criminal JusticeComments (0)

Fast track consultation


The MoJ has responded quickly to last week’s High Court’s ruling that it acted unlawfully when introducing criminal legal aid reforms. A few days after the court found that the ministry had been ‘unfair’ in failing to disclose the findings of two key reports, MoJ has announced a consultation on the findings.

In the announcement MoJ said: “We are now consulting on the reports undertaken by Otterburn Legal Consulting and KPMG (including MoJ’s response to the analysis), the findings/assumptions used in their analysis, as well as the number of duty provider contracts that should be tendered in the forthcoming procurement exercise by Otterburn Legal Consulting and KPMG… Read the full story

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

How effective are walk-outs?


Last Friday more than 1,000 barristers and solicitors protested outside parliament at cuts to criminal legal aid in their first full-day walkout. They are not calling it a strike, but that is how it will be seen.

At the rally opposite the House of Commons, Sir Ivan Lawrence QC, the former Conservative MP, said: “I’m ashamed of this government. I have been a Conservative for 60 years of my life. Never has there been a demonstration like this. It’s atrocious that this government has forced us to come and behave like this.” Read the full story

Posted in Legal AidComments (0)

No confidence motion passed at SGM


A motion of no confidence in the senior leadership of the Law Society over the organisation’s policy on criminal legal aid reform passed by a narrow margin on Tuesday. More than 600 solicitors registered their attendance but only 441 cast a vote, with 228 voting in favour of the motion and 213 against.

The petitioners, led by Liverpool solicitor James Parry, oppose the Law Society Council’s policy of direct engagement with the Ministry of Justice on proposed reforms of criminal legal aid. He and his supporters favour a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign of outright opposition that could include direct action.
Read the full story

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (2)

Not an Epiphany


Criminal barristers will stay away from court on 6 January in protest over cuts to criminal legal aid, the Criminal Bar Association has confirmed.

The CBA has hit out against a ‘misleading, cynical and underhand’ list of barristers’ names sent by the Legal Aid Agency to solicitors looking for counsel to undertake very high cost cases (VHCC). Read the full story

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

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