LAA admits possibility of further legal aid contracting delay

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

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  • Matthew-Coats

The government has admitted that a new contracting regime for criminal legal aid could be delayed further even if it successfully defends current challenges to its procurement process.

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Legal Aid Agency chief executive Matthew Coats (pictured) was explaining the challenges to the tender process for 527 duty provider contracts in a letter to Nick Walker, clerk to the House of Commons justice select committee dated 14 January.

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 100 individual procurement law challenges will begin on 3 May and is expected to finish on 16 May.

Service under the new contracts was due to commence on 11 January, nearly three months after firms found out whether their bids had been successful. The start date was then postponed to 1 April, with a contingency for a further delay should it be needed.

The tender process was automatically suspended in 69 of the 85 procurement areas as a result of claims brought in accordance with part 7 of the Civil Procedure Rules.

Coats says: ‘Whilst all the parties in the litigation agree the need for the claims to be determined expeditiously, the volume and nature of the claims make it difficult to say with any real certainty when the litigation may conclude.

‘The precise timetable for the individual claims has not yet been set out and, whatever the outcome of the litigation may be, there remains the prospect of appeals being brought, which would further extend any timetable that is set.’

Yesterday the justice secretary chose neither to rebut nor confirm speculation that he is on the brink of abandoning the new contracting regime.

Instead, Michael Gove told the House of Commons: ‘As far as criminal legal aid contracts go, it has been the case that we have had to reduce the spend on criminal legal aid in order to deal with the deficit that we inherited from the last government. But it is also the case that we maintain more generous legal aid in this country than any other comparable jurisdiction.’

Coats’ letter states that bidders were assessed against essential requirements, selection criteria, a financial assessment and award criteria. The vast majority of claims relate to the evaluation of responses to the award criteria, which is the last stage of the tender process.

Coats says there were 17 questions which required a narrative answer, which were then marked out of five. The questions related to, among other things, the management of the firms and how they would deliver services under the new contract.

The letter also states that 115 procurement law challenges were issued originally in relation to 69 procurement areas; 15 of those claims have since been withdrawn.

  • Business survival will be discussed at the Law Society’s legal aid conference this year. 'Legal Aid And Beyond: Practical Justice post-LASPO’ will take place at the Society’s headquarters in Chancery Lane, London, on 17 March. For more details see tinyurl.com/jer2ssv

Readers' comments (11)

  • Let us remember that a key architect of this two-tier debacle is LAA Director of Commissioning and Strategy, Hugh Barrett. A short summary of his impressive achievements:

    1. BVT Pilots 2009 (abandoned)
    2. Family Tender 2010 (abandoned and ruled by High Court as “unfair, unlawful and irrational”)
    3. Price Competitive Tendering 2013 (abandoned)
    4. Duty Contracts 2016 (TBA but you get the picture...)

    Whilst two-tier will surely fall it's now time for Mr Barrett and other senior managers at the LAA, who have presided over failure after failure, to be forcibly ejected from the building.

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  • I'm guessing that Mr Barrett will get a 30% bonus, pay increase and a knighthood for his ineptitude.

    That's how it usually works...doesn't it? Reward for failure!

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  • It would be fascinating to find out how many LAA employees have ever experienced the realities of running a law firm?

    Employees and their management, keeping up to date with demands of an intrusive fundamentalist regulator, the shifting requirements of lenders, the ever increasing demands of insurers, auto-enrolment for pensions, the preparation for the annual audit and property management to name but a few of the burdens solicitors must suffer.

    Add to this cocktail the thousand natural shocks solicitors are heir to in terms of emotionally challenged clients.

    The LAA, obsessed with criteria and management speak then wonders why solicitors are so angry with a remote QUANGO creating ever more hurdles to overcome and boxes to tick, while helping the client becomes an aim lost in the regulatory spaghetti

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  • I am beginning to believe that ALL of these different named people who have been left to run all of these different named departments and or agencies. Did not get ANY further in their prior careers path (if indeed they had one) than selling hosiery door to door at a knocked down prices, as a travelling Sales-Man. Because their TOTAL lack of foresight on ALL counts, simply beggars belief.

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  • I fully agree with anonymous 02.13. Hugh Barrett should explain his failure to effectively reform criminal legal aid services. The only reforms which have actually been implemented are:

    1. Reductions in fees
    2. The creation of the DSCC as a gateway to Legally aided advice

    Both could have been done in short order without the huge expense and stress of the obsession with tendering. When ideology leads procurement then waste of financial and other resources is the only outcome.

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  • It is worth noting that Head of Commissioning throughout the period of failure mentioned by anon at 2.13 under Hugh Barrett's watch was Kerry Wood, a person named and shamed by the whistle blowers individually. A change of culture is needed together with a change of policy, rather than using financial muscle and litigation to bully.

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  • Can someone explain to Gove that the banks bancrupted the country not Labour.Why does he not get them to pay off the deficit in funding?Oh I forgot it is business as usual with the banks no investigations no accountability no convictions and to rub salt in the wound those same bankers are earning more than ever and are being awarded ever increasing bonuses.Talk about skewed priorities

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  • I have been working in crime defence for over 25 years , I enjoy the work and using my brain . I go to police stations and courts several times a week , I no longer see as many people of my generation at court or police stations . I try to discourage new entrants because of the dismal pay and long hours . But government takes view we all earn too much , the people in power do not care about the rights of alleged criminals ( and some are actually innocent)and we get labelled in same way ! When you are struggling to support your family doing the job you love you have to leave it . I thought we lived in a free market capitalist economy, let the efficient firms succeed , well we don't . My advice is get out its a mugs game . If you took out the red tape and not entertain the lunatic regulators and self seeking LAA management , you might be able to earn a living from this . Government should archive their aim by just scrapping legal aid for crime matters and changing pace they will make massive savings . If you can't afford to pay then use the public defender service . Those who can pay will get access to justice . Well rant over and leaving profession by August ! Btw the newly qualified and less experienced are cheaper , but is that what it's come to ? Yes . Also we get told about doing pro bono work . I am all for it but just exclude indemnity cover for the free cases . You can't expect to get a job for free and then later sue !

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  • Was it Hugh Barrett who created the last 2 contracts in which every firm's route to growth for over 10 years has been to game said contract by paying £750 to £1500 pm to buy rota slots from "do nothing" ghosts rather than innovating, adopting digitisation and growing their customer base through quality of service.

    In the last 10 years something approaching £2/3 billion has been paid to ghost duty solicitors for their rota slots, without them having to do any work. £750 - £1,500 per month each. Its crazy.

    Simply varying a couple of straightforward contract terms to get rid of the ghosts and limit rota slots to the local court and it's police stations, would have firms acting like normal businesses.

    How much has been wasted on tendering rather than varying a couple of terms.

    Last week I met a ghost getting £1500 pm for their slots. Thats 75% of my pm take home for working full time. If I became a ghost I could earn the other £500 freelancing at police stations and MC for 2 days a month. I'd be able to top up my income with a full time job.

    Seriously, The competence of the executives at the MoJ is laughable. But more worrying is the failure of the LS and LCCSA to get across to Mr Gove the above.

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  • I think you are all being a little unfair on Hugh and Kerry - they have to get experience at the LAA before they are welcomed into the fold at the SRA. The number of former LAA/LSC who washed up there is incredible - noticed Crispin Passmore this morning 'Executive Director of Policy' at SRA - his parting gifts to the profession before leaving LSC were CLACS and CLANS ( remember them ??) - and the chaos of the LSC online system in 2009/10 - now they did cost millions ! Hugh and Kerry are still mere amateurs. Onward and upwards !

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