LAA extends legal aid contract eligibility

Topics: Legal aid and access to justice

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The government could have more criminal legal aid solicitors on its books after scrapping plans that would have forced market consolidation, it emerged this week. 

Last month justice secretary Michael Gove announced he would not be introducing a new contracting regime that would have cut the number of criminal defence firms by two-thirds.

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This week the Legal Aid Agency wrote to those who successfully bid for the new duty contracts to inform them that they are eligible to join additional duty solicitor schemes from 1 April in areas where they have opened an office and hired extra staff.

Firms must demonstrate that the new offices are operational and staffed as at 12 February, and that the office was a ‘component part’ of their successful tenders.

Firms can only join duty schemes where a specific office is eligible under the provisions of the 2010 Standard Crime Contract ‘and not any wider procurement area under the cancelled tender process’.

The letter states: ‘For the avoidance of doubt, this decision is an exercise of discretion under the terms of the 2010 Standard Crime Contract (as amended).

‘We remind organisations of the provisions of the 2015 crime contract procurement process, which confirms “The applicant organisation is solely responsible for the costs and expenses incurred in connection with the preparation and submission of a tender or associated with any cancellation, or suspension of this procurement process by the LAA. Under no circumstances will the LAA, or any of its employees, be liable for any costs”.’ 

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said it was ‘nonsense to suggest market consolidation’ was going into reverse. 

‘The legal professions themselves have told us on numerous occasions that the criminal legal aid market is already consolidating without government intervention and this is expected to continue,’ the spokesperson said.

‘As a gesture of goodwill, the LAA has decided that the small number of organisations who opened new offices and recruited staff, at their own risk, in preparation for dual contracting should be able to take on legal aid work in those areas.’

Firms wishing to join additional duty solicitor schemes from 1 April must confirm the address of each office and when it became operational.

Duty information forms and CRM12 forms for each office must be provided by 19 February.

Readers' comments (10)

  • So instead of procuring consolidation, government has caused proliferation (for good or ill, time will tell).

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  • You couldn't make this stuff up!

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  • Have I missed something. The LAA clearly stated one of the reasons for them trying to push through two tier was that the 2010 contract could not be extended anymore and was illegal as it is older than 5 years old. Now apparently it is a magic formula for doing anything you like to not be accountable for your previous maladministration. I hope but doubt that people are being held to account at the LAA for their incompetence.

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  • I reckon there are a few villages out there, missing their 'Idiots'

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  • The numbers may be up, but the pot is still shrinking and the approach to policing and criminal justice is evolving. The market will prevail. This is really an illusory reprieve. Very few firms should now realisitically rely solely on criminal legal aid.

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  • Apparently the massive recruitment process by firms to recruit ghost duty solicitors has already started.Retainers range from £400-£710. Hence the rotas will be saturated with a lot of barristers and solicitors who don't even do any police station work. LAA should act now and impose contract sanctions on firms who have been doing this rather than allowing them to carry on to everyone's detriment.

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  • Mr Hugh Barrett of the LAA, this is your baby that has consumed millions of pounds that could instead have gone into helping people with their legal problems. You have also presided over similar debacles in your career at the LAA each one of which would have had you spending more time in your garden had you been in the private sector.

    Please just do the honourable thing and fall on your sword for God's sake.

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  • So hang on. Have I read this right? Those who applied for the new duty contracts but lost out due to the MOJ's belated but welcome u-turn, have not in fact lost out at all as they are going to be allowed to muscle in to new areas? Given that the tender expressly stated that no recompense would be given, why on earth are the LAA now cravenly giving in to the BFG (for it will surely be them) by giving them extra slots now, when nothing has yet been agreed as to how things will develop from here on?

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  • Anon at 01:42am, you are generalising, and forgetting those "ghost solicitors" with retainers who actually cover court and police station duties, and in being to work as such, contribute to the profession in other ways, such as teach in legal education and training!

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  • anon 01:42

    There are no ghost GPs in the NHS.

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