The Legal Aid Agency is believed to have begun notifying unsuccessful applicants who bid for a new government contract to provide criminal legal aid services as the next stage of the procurement process gets underway.

Issuing an update on the tender process today, the agency said unsuccessful applicants will be notified ‘in the coming weeks’. However, the Gazette understands that at least two firms were notified on Tuesday.

The new contracts come into force on 1 April next year. 

Despite the procurement process being non-competitive, the agency was accused of ‘incompetence of the very highest order’ over multiple changes to the tender. Since the procurement process opened on 21 July, the agency has issued six amendment notices in relation to its ‘duty solicitor postcode tools’, ‘duty information forms’ and its 'Information for Applicants' document.

David Gilmore (pictured), director of consultancy DG Legal in Leicestershire, said: ’Given the number of problems encountered at the LAA’s end with the tender documents and the postcode tool, we wondered whether the LAA would exercise discretion and not punish mistakes made by applicants.

’Given that this was a non-competitive tender such an approach would have been understandable. It seems though that it’s all right for the LAA to make mistakes but not law firms.’

Practitioners were also furious when the Ministry of Justice announced proposals to close Camberwell Green and Hammersmith magistrates’ courts in London on the same day the deadline for the procurement process closed.

The agency says it is in the process of assessing tenders in line with the timetable published in its IFA document.

It received tenders from more than 1,400 individual organisations across 2,100 offices in England and Wales. The agency currently has contracts with 1,356 organisations.

Successful applicants will be notified in November and will be required to submit any outstanding verification information.