On the 2nd April a joint statement was issued by the Law Society, Legal Services Commission and Ministry of Justice regarding the agreement they reached on the unified contract. This follows the recent Court of Appeal judgement about the civil legal aid contract.
The MOJ and the LSC have accepted â€œand will not challenge the decision of the Court of Appeal in favour of The Law Societyâ€™s (TLS) arguments that clause 13.1 of the Unified Contract is incompatible with the Public Contracts Regulations 2006 (the Regulations).â€
There was an element of humble-pie eating in their admission that they â€œregret that the implications of those Regulations were not recognised earlier and acknowledge that TLS was justified in commencing those proceedings. MOJ and LSC further acknowledge and accept that the Court of Appeal judgment means that the only power of amendment which now remains in the civil Unified Contract is the power in clause 13.2.â€
The Law Society was more triumphalist, claiming that it had â€œsecured significant benefits for the civil legal aid systemâ€, and that the agreement would â€œgive many legal aid firms a much needed period of stability and certainty in which to plan their futures.â€ Des Hudson, Law Society chief executive, said â€œour talks with the LSC and the Ministry of Justice have not only helped ensure legal aid will receive vital financial support, they have also shown that we can work together in an effort to establish a more balanced system that is workable and accessible. However, we still have serious concerns about the future of legal aid and welcome the LSC’s commitment to a more open approach of better engagement with legal aid practitioners and the Society.â€
Unified Contract Agreement â€“ the details
The Law Societyâ€™s press release highlighted the following points of the agreement:-
â€¢ Best value tendering (BVT) in criminal legal aid will be delayed by six months to a date not before July 2009.
â€¢ an increase of 2% on all legal help fixed fees and underlying hourly rates from 01/07/08.
â€¢ care level 2 fee increases from Â£347 to Â£405.
â€¢ a 5% increase in CLR (controlled legal representation) fees and rates for mental health.
â€¢ a 5% increase in CLR fees and rates for immigration.
â€¢ a delay in implementing private law family litigators’ graduated fees.
â€¢ a closed list of all CLACS and CLANS (Community Legal Advice Centres and Networks) planned for the period ending April 2010.
â€¢ the LSC will, with effect from today, not seek to recoup historic unrecouped payments on account over six years old and where the amount outstanding is less than Â£20,000 â€“ restrictions apply (see the full deed of settlement).
â€¢ a new process on standard monthly payments, designed to prevent changes happening so often, so unpredictably and with such large variations.
â€¢ LSC’s commitment to publish a route map setting out the outline of its proposals for the next five years, including a commitment that there will be no price competitive tendering for civil or family work before 2013.
â€¢ Reviews of the contract compliance audit process and the operation of peer review and other quality assurance mechanisms.
For full details and relevant links see:-