The justice secretary chose neither to rebut nor confirm speculation today that he is on the brink of abandoning a controversial new contracting regime for criminal legal aid.

Answering justice questions in the House of Commons this morning, Michael Gove (pictured) was asked by Labour's shadow minister for human rights Andy Slaughter to confirm press reports that he was about to abandon new contracts to provide 24-hour cover at police stations.

Gove replied: ‘As far as criminal legal aid contracts go, it has been the case that we have had to reduce the spend on criminal legal aid in order to deal with the deficit that we inherited from the last government. But it is also the case that we maintain more generous legal aid in this country than any other comparable jurisdiction.’   

Both the Law Society and shadow justice secretary Lord Falconer have called for a public statement to clarify the future of the new contracting system, currently bogged down in challenges to the procurement process.

A judicial review, sought by the Fair Crime Contracts Alliance, is set to open on 7 April and is expected to last seven days. A hearing into more than 100 individual procurement law challenges will begin on 3 May and is expected to finish on 16 May.