Any challenges to the government’s awards of new legal aid contracts must be done quickly, anxious criminal defence solicitors were warned last night.
Firms will shortly discover via the Legal Aid Agency’s Bravo e-tendering portal whether they have been successful with bids for a reduced number of contracts to provide 24-hour cover at police stations.
A spokesperson for the agency told the Gazette that applicant organisations would be notified about the tender outcomes 'this week'.
'We will make an announcement when we start to notify organisations about the outcome of their bid,' the spokesperson said.
'All new contracts will start in January 2016 in line with the planned timetable.'
All firms will be notified of the tender outcome on the same day, the Gazette understands.
On Monday, the Law Society set out guidance on potential routes for challenging the LAA’s decisions.
Last night London firm Bindmans held a seminar to help solicitors understand their options for challenging contract decisions.
Public law barrister Joanne Clement, of London-based chambers 11KBW, told solicitors they ‘have to act quickly and, in reality, before the LAA or MoJ enters into a contract with successful bidders’.
According to the LAA’s information for applicants document, contract execution and start dates are scheduled to be made the week commencing 5 October.
Clement said successful bidders’ award letters should contain the date on which the ministry intends to enter into an agreement.
‘If not, that’s the very first thing you need to know because you need to issue any claim before that happens,’ she said.
11KBW’s Jason Coppel QC told the seminar that claims in procurement cases were ‘very often’ issued ‘before you really know how strong your case is’.
Coppel said there was a ‘whole series of extra information’ firms need to obtain through correspondence with the LAA to help them understand whether or not they have grounds for a ‘proper’ challenge.
‘Some of that will be given willingly, some not,’ he said.
Meanwhile shadow solicitor general Karl Turner has written to lord chancellor Michael Gove urging him to delay the rollout of the ministry’s two-tier contract reforms.
Service under the new contracts is scheduled to commence on 11 January.
‘I urge you to push back the timetable for these damaging proposals,’ the Hull MP wrote. ‘At least until proper consideration is given to alternatives offered by the respective practitioner groups.’