Criminal defence firms waiting to find out if their bids for new legal aid contracts have succeeded are expecting to wait at least another week for news.
The Legal Aid Agency said it will notify firms this month of the outcome of its tender process for a reduced number of contracts to provide 24-hour cover at police stations, but will not give an exact date.
However, the agency gave another indication of the time frame after publishing a paper for a separate tender for criminal legal aid services in a West Country procurement area. Devon and Cornwall 1 failed to attract sufficient bids in the original procurement.
In a ‘frequently asked questions’ document, the agency said the Ministry of Justice was not able to publish the outcome of the 2015 duty provider contract procurement exercise before the deadline for submission of Devon and Cornwall 1 tenders: Wednesday 9 September.
Meanwhile, practitioner groups extended their attempt to find out whether there is a critical mass of firms willing to withdraw bids in protest at the new regime.
Members of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association and Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association were asked last month to confirm their willingness to withdraw bids ‘if sufficient bidding firms in that area indicated they would do the same’.
Practitioners do not now expect an announcement before 21 September.
Firms had until 28 August to submit their responses. But LCCSA president Jonathan Black said he felt it ‘helpful’ to extend the deadline to 21 September.
The practitioner groups suspended a nationwide legal aid boycott on 21 August as a ‘goodwill gesture’ to the MoJ following a series of meetings with officials to discuss the impact of the ministry’s second 8.75% fee cut for litigators, which was introduced on 1 July.
Black said the groups ‘anticipate a reply very soon’.