The tender for police station duty provider legal aid contracts has been deferred until October following a call from the Law Society.
The Ministry of Justice today published draft contract terms and specifications together with a summary of the changes in the new contract compared with the current 2010 contract.
It said the formal tender process will begin in October ‘in order to give bidders sufficient opportunity to absorb this information’.
Practitioners had expected the process to begin in July, but the ministry insisted that, while verbal guidance had been given that the tender would open in the summer, no date had been fixed.
In July, then Law Society president Nicholas Fluck wrote to the lord chancellor Chris Grayling seeking a delay to the tender process because of concerns that prospective bidders did not have sufficient time to allow them to submit bids.
The new contracting arrangements introduce two contracts – one for own client work, available to all qualifying firms, and a second for duty contracts, available to a limited number of firms.
The ministry’s introduction of the changes is the subject of a judicial review by representative groups the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) and the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association. The hearing is expected to take place in September.
Subject to the outcome of the judicial review, the new contracts will commence on 1 July 2015. The tender process for own client work ended in May. In order to bid for duty contracts, firms need to have an own client contract.
Announcing the timetable, an MoJ spokeswoman said: ‘In combination with the Law Society’s ongoing work with its members, we will also be providing market engagement opportunities to support firms in preparing for new contracts during August. In September we will publish a further round of tender information to help bidder preparations.’
She said: ‘We have always been clear that we will do everything we can to support the transition to the new arrangements and to provide bidders as much time as possible to prepare.’
Responding, Law Society president Andrew Caplen said: ‘During our representations with the MoJ about the process to tender for duty provider contracts, we raised a considerable number of complex issues which are still to be fully resolved.
‘We are pleased therefore that the ministry has taken the sensible step of rescheduling the tender process.’
Caplen said: ‘We will continue to represent the views of our members to the MoJ in these complex issues.’
Nicola Hill, president of the LCCSA, said was encouraged by the postponement.
'We’ve been saying for months and months that the new contracts spell disaster.' However she cautioned: 'There is every indication these short-sighted new contracts will still be introduced - albeit on a slightly delayed schedule.