Falconer joins calls for legal aid contracting clarity

Topics: Legal aid and access to justice,Government & politics

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Calls have escalated for the government to clarify its position on criminal legal aid contracting following speculation that the troubled tender process was to be abandoned.

Lord Falconer (pictured) has asked justice secretary Michael Gove to come before parliament ‘urgently’ to make a statement and clarify the government’s position. 

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The shadow justice secretary’s letter follows Law Society president Jonathan Smithers’ plea for clarity earlier this week.

A judicial review, sought by the Fair Crime Contracts Alliance, is set to open on 7 April and is expected to last seven days. A hearing into more than 100 individual procurement law challenges will begin on 3 May and is expected to finish on 16 May.

The Gazette understands that the Legal Aid Agency has begun disclosing documents showing the marking by the assessors and moderators of all the claimant firms’ bids, which it has to do by the end of today.

Falconer says: ‘In the last few days, there has been speculation that the court action would cease this week and that the government would drop its plans.

‘I note that when asked by the Law Society, the Legal Aid Agency said that there had been no change of policy but that policy remains constantly under review by ministers.

‘You will appreciate that criminal legal aid practitioners are facing considerable uncertainty over the future of their firms and careers, as well as the possibility of significant costs in litigation. Many will understandably be angry at the way this has been handled and at your department’s failure to keep them - and the public - informed.

‘I would therefore ask that you urgently come before the house to make a statement and clarify the government’s position.’

When contacted by the Gazette this morning, the Ministry of Justice said its stance on criminal legal aid contracts has not changed.

A spokesperson said: ‘We are defending the legal challenges to the procurement process.’

Guidance issued by the ministry states that it would not be appropriate for the department to discuss cases subject to ongoing litigation in the courts. 

It also states that the government's first priority is to make sure criminal legal aid remains available to those who need it. It has, therefore, taken the difficult but necessary decision to delay the start of the new contracts until 1 April.

Readers' comments (6)

  • Would this be the same Lord Falconer, that was responsible for damaging the Rule of Law, with his muddled but dangerous Legal Services Act?

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  • I have no doubt that if he in govt he would be pushing something similar to this. If ever in power he and his mate Willy Bach will resurrect son of PCT. Let's face it it is only like selling tins of beans

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  • Please keep this utter idiot as far away from the Solicitor's branch of the Profession as it is possible.

    This clown has caused untold damage to the very fabric of the English Legal System.

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  • Duty Solicitors. However strong our conviction, the relative salary and stress, the lack of a career path, is difficult to justify to the spouse and children.

    We have only 2000 to 2500 full time duty solicitors. David Cameron reported that 1000 new jobs are created every day.

    The MoJ need to grasp that tech is a 2 edged sword. The use of algorithms doesn't stop at targeted marketing of goods and services. Identification of potential staff is next. Finding the brightest 1 or 2% in the workforce who have the transferable skills duty solicitors take for granted, is a lottery for businesses.

    A single employment agency putting the duty solicitor job through an algorithm which considers transferable skills and current salaries, would see all of us getting job offers we can't refuse. Whether that algorithm is being run today or we have to wait a year, it will happen, sooner rather than later. Once it starts, it will be quick, perhaps as soon as a couple of months for the MoJ to lose all of us.

    Hence action is needed before it starts to raise salary levels and career prospects. Efficiency and an open market are key. Instead of 2 tier the MoJ should try what follows.
    1/ Replace contracting with minimum requirements on criminal defence case management software to ensure compliance.
    2/ Limit rota slots to the local court and it's police stations so that firms are representing 2-4 clients' per day in their local court rather than 1.
    3/ Require duty solicitors on the rota to do a minimum number of PACE interviews and magistrates court hearings per month equal to 2 days of attendances pw, to end the scandal of every full-time duty solicitor losing £1000-£1500 pm in wages so their firms can pay a retainer for the duty slots of ghost duty solicitors.
    4/ Keep criminal defence open to new firms entering the market to encourage existing firms to offer equity partnership or risk losing their talent.
    5/ Criminal defence is one part of the justice process. Efficiency needs to cover the whole, the courts, the CPS, the probation and prison services. Probation sentencing reports should be done on the day of plea not for a later hearing date. Courts should schedule hearings as if they are appointments. Police officers waste 2-3 hours per matter writing out lengthy case and interview summaries yet the evidence they are based on is already completed and uploaded before the first hearing. We have cjsm email. It would be easier and cheaper to disclose it all at the first hearing.

    I'm a voice in the wind. But I suggest you all look to your email because recruiters are getting desperate for talent and we are very easy pickings.

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  • I cannot decide if it was s.39 SA 1974 or CLSA 2006 which did more harm to this profession. Both were disastrous. Falconer should hang his head in shame.

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  • Anon at 9.26 you are absolutely correct. The problem is that your proposals are at odds with the BFG, who's greedy equity partners wish is to fix the market for their own ends. Certainly, they have no interest in paying their staff a decent wage and by extension, have little interest in maintaining a decent CDS. The delicious irony of course, is that the greedy members of the BFG who failed to get contracts, may be the ones who defeat TT. When this is all resolved, we need a small firms group to fight for our interests. I am afraid that the CLSA & LCCSA have shown themselves beholden to the BFG to our cost.

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