Falconer refers legal aid U-turn to spending watchdog

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

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Lord Falconer has today asked the National Audit Office to investigate how much the abortive attempt to impose criminal legal aid reforms cost the taxpayer. 

Justice secretary Michael Gove last week announced that he had decided not to introduce a new dual contracting regime.

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He will also suspend, for a period of 12 months from 1 April, a second 8.75% cut in fees introduced in July last year but shelved after protests by lawyers. 

Falconer, the shadow lord chancellor, has asked the NAO to investigate the Ministry of Justice’s decision to pursue a dual contracting model and the Legal Aid Agency’s handling of the procurement process for new contracts.

His letter, to comptroller and auditor general Sir Amyas Morse, was published on legal commentator David Allen Green’s ‘Jack of Kent’ blog.

Falconer said: ‘This is a significant change in policy and one that has taken place very late in the day. Not only will many criminal law firms have already taken decisions either to expand or to cut staff based on their success in the bidding process, but much time and expenditure is likely to have already been spent by the MoJ and LAA.’

The day after Gove’s announcement, the Gazette reported that some firms had spent thousands of pounds preparing for the new contracts and were considering whether to seek compensation from the ministry.

Falconer said: ‘In addition, the government has so far ignored calls - by the Law Society and the Labour party - for an independent review of the procurement process.’

The former justice secretary said he hoped Morse agreed that the NAO ‘has an important role to play in ensuring that the interests of the taxpayers have been properly safeguarded in this case’.

He also copied the letter to Meg Hillier MP, chair of the House of Commons public accounts committee.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said: 'As the justice secretary made clear, the decision to suspend the second fee cut was driven in part by potentially costly and time-consuming litigation, whatever the outcome.

'He did not want the department and the legal aid market to face months, if not years, of continuing uncertainty and expensive litigation while it is heard.'

On Friday the NAO published its key findings into Just Solutions International, the controversial criminal venture set up to export UK justice expertise.

The ministry announced in September that it was closing the commercial arm of the National Offender Management Service, set up in 2012.

The NAO said it received correspondence 'raising concerns around the transparency of JSI’s activities and requesting that we investigate’ following the announcement.

Readers' comments (10)

  • Could the NAO investigate the PDS at the same time, don't think they have ever offered tax payers value for money?

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  • And the Legal Services Act 2006 at the same time. What a disaster!

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  • "Lord Falconer has today asked the National Audit Office to investigate how much the abortive attempt to impose criminal legal aid reforms cost the taxpayer. "

    And doing so will cost even more money for the taxpayer so that Bliar's mate can score a political point. Just tell him to do one.

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  • Point taken Tim but the PDS must be so damned good that they get given a duty provider contract without even having to tender for one!

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  • How much did their 'changes' from Green Form to Claims 10 'cost' the taxpayer?

    How much society in gen when you look at the fact that there is no Legal Aid at all for any Employment or Welfare cases?

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  • Why isn't Grayling under more public scrutiny to resign and/or to publicly apologise? This debacle happened on his watch.

    The cost will certainly run into millions and whats another few million spent on an investigation and a report confirming what we all know?

    When people talk about Whitehall waste this is precisely what they're referring to. A complete embarrassment from start to finish- playing games with the livelihoods of thousands of solicitors.

    As a profession we mustn't ever forget and must unite to face these challenges- particularly relevant in light of Jackson's latest thriller proposal- to fix fees in commercial litigation. I hope he beats it too.

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  • Quite right,they have made the withdrawal sound like some kind of change in ideology to stop people wasting their time and money taking them to Court,when in essence of was forced on them due to their incompetence and arrogance. It is time procurement is taken off the LAA for good and given to people with the expertise and the integrity to do it properly.

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  • so what. Nothing will be done .Its all for show

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  • Maybe the savings Gove refers to are in connection with closing down Bravors? In London. They have been ordered to pay back millions. Whilst that will be unlikely to happen at least that money will be available in next years budget for legal aid spend.

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  • Sorry I meant Blavo.

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