The High Court will deliver judgment on the judicial review of the lord chancellor’s controversial criminal legal aid reforms tomorrow.
Lord Justice Laws and Mr Justice Cranston heard challenges last month from the Law Society and practitioner groups the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA) and London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) to Chris Grayling’s decision to press ahead with two-tier contracts for criminal legal aid.
The tender process was suspended in December pending the outcome of the JR, following an application for interim relief by the CLSA and LCCSA.
The Society argued that the lord chancellor’s decision to start a tender process was unlawful because it is ‘irrational’, ‘disproportionate’ and based on a ‘manifest error’.
The justice secretary Chris Grayling (pictured), it said, had failed to take into account, or misunderstood the impact of, the availability of investment and financing needed by solicitor firms and the speed of market consolidation required to meet the government's timetable.
The government argued that the lord chancellor did not have ‘perfect’ information but it was ‘sufficient’ to enable a decision to be made.
Publicly funded criminal legal aid work is currently carried out under contract with the Legal Aid Agency. Under the lord chancellor’s plans, there will be two types of contract – own-client work and duty provider work.
On 27 November 2014 the government commenced a tender process for 527 duty provider work contracts, under which successful bidders would be contracted to provide a share of advice and assistance in police stations in a particular area.
Should judgment go against the Society and practitioner groups, firms could have as little as five weeks to submit their bids.
Should the High Court’s decision go against the government, the issue of how criminal legal aid is procured could be put on hold until after the general election.