Tag Archive | "duty contracts"

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 :


Posted in Legal Aid, Legal Practice ManagementComments (0)

Goodbye to new legal aid contracting regime

It’s a bit like the failing football manager syndrome. The chairman of the club vigorously defends the current occupant until he has a replacement lined up. Then out goes the old manager with glowing praise and thanks.

In a written ministerial statement this afternoon, justice secretary Michael Gove, having given fulsome praise to his unlamented predecessor, said he had decided ‘not to go ahead with the introduction of the dual contracting system’. He will also suspend, for a period of 12 months from 1 April, a second fee cut which was introduced in July last year.

Under the dual contracting system, two types of contract were to be awarded to criminal legal aid firms.

  • An unlimited number of contracts for ‘own client’ work based on basic financial and fitness to practise checks – in others words continued payment for representing existing and known clients.
  • And a total of 527 ‘duty’ contracts awarded by competition, giving firms the right to be on the duty legal aid rota in 85 geographical procurement areas around the country, with between 4 and 17 contracts awarded in each. In other words, these contracts would allow a limited number of firms the chance to represent new entrants to the criminal justice system.

Gove said: “The dual contracting model was a carefully designed initiative from my department that aimed to meet concerns expressed by the legal profession about price competition. But over time, opposition to this model has been articulated with increasing force and passion by both solicitors and barristers.”

He said: “These arguments weighed heavily with me, but the need to deliver reductions in expenditure rapidly, and thus force the pace of consolidation, was stronger. Since July 2015, however, two significant developments have occurred.

“Firstly, thanks to economies I have made elsewhere in my department HM Treasury have given me a settlement which allows me greater flexibility in the allocation of funds for legal aid.

“Secondly, it has become clear, following legal challenges mounted against our procurement process, that there are real problems in pressing ahead as initially proposed.

“In addition, a judicial review challenging the entire process has raised additional implementation challenges.”

The Legal Aid Agency will extend current contracts so as to ensure continuing service until replacement contracts come into force later this year and more details will follow in due course.

One reason Mr Gove has earned the respect of his political opponents is his willingness to reverse many of Grayling’s least effective decisions, such as the restriction on books for prisoners, the proposed young offenders prison, the Saudi Arabia prisons deal and abolishing the much criticised criminal courts charge.

And now the demise of this half baked dual contract fiasco. What a waste of money and what a waste of time and effort. Don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: “It is clear that a competitive approach to the provision of criminal legal aid services is not appropriate. The assurance that there will be no competitive tendering in the future gives practitioners greater certainty for the future.’

LCCSA president Greg Foxsmith said: “We sincerely hope the MoJ learn lessons from this sorry affair, and we are ready and willing to work constructively with Mr Gove to replace “two-tier justice” with sustainable legal aid provision that provides justice for all.”

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

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