MoJ denies legal aid contract U-turn

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

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The Ministry of Justice has confirmed that it will continue to fight challenges to the tender process for new criminal legal aid contracts following speculation that it is planning to abandon plans for a two-tier contracting regime.

A judicial review, sought by the Fair Crime Contracts Alliance, will open on 7 April, and is expected to last seven days.

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A hearing into more than 100 individual procurement law challenges, sought in accordance with part 7 of the Civil Procedure Rules, will begin on 3 May and is expected to finish on 16 May.

Rumours emerged over the weekend on Twitter that the court action would cease this week.

However, when asked if the ministry was seeking to resolve the litigation ahead of the JR and part 7 hearings, and abandon its two-tier contracting plans, a spokesperson told the Gazette: ‘We are defending the legal challenges to the procurement process.’ 

Zoe Gascoyne, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, also issued an update on the association’s website after speaking to the ministry.

Gascoyne said: ‘The CLSA and London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association recognise that the profession has been through a prolonged period of uncertainty and, as a result of the speculation over the continuation of two-tier [contracts] have spoken directly with the MoJ today.

‘The MoJ confirm that no decision has been made to stop two-tier. As it stands they are continuing with plans for two-tier and will proceed to roll it out in those areas not subject to litigation on 1 April. They have confirmed that they will continue to defend the litigation.’

The Law Society this evening called on the ministry and the Legal Aid Agency to issue an 'urgent public statement' to provide certainty for all involved in the procurement process.

The Society said it was advised by the agency yesterday that there had been no policy change. 'However, the LAA said that ministers review policy on a regular basis'.

In a letter to justice minister Shailesh Vara, Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: 'Our chief executive, Catherine Dixon, spoke to Matthew Coats, chief executive of the [LAA] to seek further information.

'The LAA has confirmed that there is no change in government policy on this issue. It would, however, be helpful if you could confirm whether the policy on this sensitive matter is being reviewed.'

By Friday the LAA will have to disclose documents showing the marking by the assessors and moderators of all the claimant firms’ bids.

This includes a sheet which shows for each question the answer from the firm, how the first assessor rated it, how the second assessor rated it independently from the first, and how the moderator (and super-moderator where involved) resolved any differences between them.

The agency has already disclosed documents for a selected sample of cases.

Readers' comments (14)

  • Who will blink first?

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  • Stephen Larcombe19 January 2016 12:56 pm...just like when the Big Firm Group etc met and said 'lets postpone the strike and show a bit of professionalism' under assurances that their tenders will all (just about) be accepted. Unfortunately, one of the BFG did not get its own way so started rattling some cages.

    If we stand together and steady...the government should really fold first but as you say...who will blink first?

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  • With the continuous attack on professionalism solicitors need to learn fast that a cynical government only respects strength

    Countless capitulations and naïveté on a reckless scale has left a perception of weakness.

    We must mimic the robust approach of the junior doctors. and win the political arguments for a strong independent legal profession processing the Rule Of Law

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  • Anonymous19 January 2016 02:27 pm but who will lead the assault?

    Will it make a difference given that when the criminal barristers/lawyers last held a strike, other firms were picking up the business.

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  • The real issue is the rates of pay. They are too low to sustain practice.
    A clean exit is better than failing after an attritional war that cannot be won. Cheaper too.
    Smaller firms, this means you.

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  • "The real issue is the rates of pay. They are too low to sustain practice."

    The 2T system was based on consolidation of the market to enable the successful bidders to survive on reduced rates. However work throughout the country has fallen off a cliff so the value of each contract in each area is not what it was. By the time this is all sorted out many firms will be out of business regardless of the outcome of the judicial review and part 7 appeal. The larger firms are more at risk than the smaller ones. They employed all those extra bodies, took out loans and geared up for being handed a contract on a plate. As a smaller firm we have no loans/mortgage or large wage bills etc.
    Let's not pretend that our profession is going to strike and is anything but a paper tiger. We had numerous opportunities to fight over the years and did not do so. We just hoped that someone would do it for us. I say that as someone who did join every strike going only to find little support and none from other branches of our profession who are now in the process of being picked off one at a time.

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  • Good to see the anonymous standing up and being counted!

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  • Good to see the anonymous standing up and being counted!

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  • Fantastic that the legal profession is (very belatedly) standing up to be counted. I'll watch this with great interest. Fingers crossed. A great shame this action was not undertaken on its behalf by the Law Society.

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  • Anon. 4.32pm
    "The larger firms are more at risk than the smaller ones."
    Are you trying to persuade yourself?
    You are living in dreamland.

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