Firms bidding for new criminal legal aid contracts have been warned about new requirements to tackle the issue of ‘ghost’ duty solicitors ahead of the latest deadline in the government’s procurement process. 'Ghosts' are solicitors whose details are used to obtain slots but who do not carry out the work.
Firms wishing to apply for slots on the government’s crime duty rota from 1 April have until Friday to submit their CRM12 applications providing details of their nominated solicitors.
However, the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association has warned its members to be mindful of changes to the duty solicitor rules when completing their forms.
CLSA chair Zoe Gascoyne said: 'Our priority is to ensure that there is a sustainable criminal defence service in which the best criminal legal aid firms can thrive.
'This is obviously put at risk if firms are operating to different standards, particularly if firms gain an advantage by actually failing to comply with the contract terms – as opposed to those firms that have correctly adopted the standards applied in the new contract.’
Duty solicitors will be required to carry out 14 hours’ contract work per week from the office for which they derive their rota slots.
Firms are banned from paying solicitors to use their details as 'ghosts' on the CRM12 form to obtain additional slots where the named solicitor is not ‘engaged and integrated’ into the organisation and used to deliver contract work.
Gascoyne said: 'Obviously, it is a nonsense that firms that comply with the rules should suffer to the detriment of those who do not, and we hope that all firms will be mindful of the new requirements, and we will certainly be expecting the Legal Aid Agency to take action against those firms that are not.’
The Gazette understands the Law Society has had discussions with the LAA about solicitors’ concerns.
A spokesperson for the agency said: 'There are a number of provisions included in the Standard Crime Contract which address the issue of "ghost" duty solicitors.
'Providers are required to keep records to show their compliance with the contract requirements. Any breach of a contract will be taken extremely seriously.'