A consultation on whether criminal defence firms are prepared to withdraw their bids for new legal aid contracts has been widened, as solicitors await the outcome of talks with the Ministry of Justice regarding its reforms.
Firms will find out next month if their bids for one of a reduced number of contracts for 24-hour cover at police stations have been successful.
The London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association has asked firms to confirm their willingness to withdraw their bids ‘if sufficient bidding firms in that area indicated they would do the same’. It has also asked for confirmation from bidders which it said ‘have already reached a decision to refuse their tender offer’ as well as firms that have not submitted bids.
The deadline for responses is 28 August.
The Criminal Law Solicitors Association has begun a similar exercise after CLSA vice-chair Robin Murray said ‘the whole world and its mother seemed to want a consultation on bid withdrawal’.
Thousands of solicitors are currently participating in a nationwide legal aid boycott, which commenced on 1 July, when the ministry introduced a second 8.75% fee cut for litigators.
Justice secretary Michael Gove is expected to be briefed this week on four proposals presented by the practitioner groups to consider in terms of alternative savings to the second fee cut.
Murray said talks with the MoJ were ‘positive’ but the issue of two-tier contracts ‘remains at the heart of this dispute’.
‘If the MoJ respond in a way that does not address many flaws and concerns we have, then we think it is right that firms have the right to express their view on withdrawal of bids,’ he said.
Meanwhile the ministry has issued further details about the tender process for two of the procurement areas - Devon and Cornwall 1 (Devon) and Hampshire 2 – for which it received insufficient bids.
Firms have until midday on 9 September to submit tenders for Devon and Cornwall 1.
Firms are invited to submit an ‘expression of interest’ to deliver contract work in Hampshire 2, which covers the Isle of Wight, by midday on 2 September.