Legal aid bid turned down over ‘basic transcription error’
Topics: Legal aid and access to justice
A London criminal law firm says it lost out on a new legal aid contract as a result of a ‘basic transcription error’ in the marking of one of its bids.
Edward Fail Bradshaw & Waterson (EFBW), one of several firms challenging the Legal Aid Agency’s tender process for new crime duty provider contracts, today filed an application for a summary judgment in a claim challenging the contract decision.
The firm was unsuccessful in its bids for duty solicitor work in the London boroughs Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets.
A press release issued this afternoon by London firm Bindmans, which is acting for EFBW in the litigation, states that the LAA has ‘now admitted that it made a basic transcription error in scoring at least one of EFBW’s bids, and that consequently EFBW should have been awarded a contract in Hackney’.
According to the press release, Bindmans identified the possibility of such an error in October but this was not addressed by the LAA in pre-action correspondence and a formal offer of alternative dispute resolution was not taken up.
Bindmans says the error was only then able to be confirmed following early limited disclosure of the marking documents ordered by the High Court in November in respect of EFBW’s Hackney and eight other claims.
‘Even after disclosure, the LAA ignored Bindmans’ requests to settle EFBW’s claim and proceeded to file a defence that admitted the error but failed to acknowledge the consequences,’ the press release continues.
‘Only after further correspondence did the LAA acknowledge that if the error had not been made, EFBW should have scored higher than at least one of the purported successful bidders.
‘The LAA has, however, refused to settle the claim, despite the fact that it should never have had to be brought.’
Bindmans partner Jamie Potter said: ‘The error in this case may have been small but its consequences were extremely serious. The lord chancellor and the LAA must look for a way out of this litigation outside of the courtroom.’
EFBW managing partner Paul Harris (pictured) said the number of contracts the firm was awarded ‘significantly affects the extent to which we are able to continue as a business, including the number of staff we can employ.
‘Can the LAA realistically say that such errors have not been made in respect of other bids by us or by other firms?’
‘In the absence of such an assurance, surely at least a wholesale review and/or remarking is required instead of continuing to pursue inevitably costly litigation.
‘Livelihoods should not be undermined by the typing of a “1” instead of a “2” and firms should not be required to bring legal challenges to uncover such errors.’
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice told the Gazette it was 'defending the legal challenges to the procurement process and it would not be appropriate to discuss individual cases that are subject to ongoing litigation in the courts'.
The spokesperson said: 'We still have one of the most generous legal aid systems in the world, with £1.6bn spent last year alone. The spending review settlement we have reached with the Treasury for the next five years leaves legal aid almost untouched.'
The Law Society said the latest news 'seriously undermines the confidence of those firms that have secured contracts as it creates doubt as to whether they will still have a contract once the litigation is concluded'.
It urged the MoJ to take up its call for an independent review of the tender award process, 'instead of proceeding with expensive and time-consuming litigation'.