The Ministry of Justice has confirmed that it will continue to fight challenges to the tender process for new criminal legal aid contracts following speculation that it is planning to abandon plans for a two-tier contracting regime.
A judicial review, sought by the Fair Crime Contracts Alliance, will open on 7 April, and is expected to last seven days.
A hearing into more than 100 individual procurement law challenges, sought in accordance with part 7 of the Civil Procedure Rules, will begin on 3 May and is expected to finish on 16 May.
Rumours emerged over the weekend on Twitter that the court action would cease this week.
However, when asked if the ministry was seeking to resolve the litigation ahead of the JR and part 7 hearings, and abandon its two-tier contracting plans, a spokesperson told the Gazette: ‘We are defending the legal challenges to the procurement process.’
Zoe Gascoyne, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, also issued an update on the association’s website after speaking to the ministry.
Gascoyne said: ‘The CLSA and London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association recognise that the profession has been through a prolonged period of uncertainty and, as a result of the speculation over the continuation of two-tier [contracts] have spoken directly with the MoJ today.
‘The MoJ confirm that no decision has been made to stop two-tier. As it stands they are continuing with plans for two-tier and will proceed to roll it out in those areas not subject to litigation on 1 April. They have confirmed that they will continue to defend the litigation.’
The Law Society this evening called on the ministry and the Legal Aid Agency to issue an 'urgent public statement' to provide certainty for all involved in the procurement process.
The Society said it was advised by the agency yesterday that there had been no policy change. 'However, the LAA said that ministers review policy on a regular basis'.
In a letter to justice minister Shailesh Vara, Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: 'Our chief executive, Catherine Dixon, spoke to Matthew Coats, chief executive of the [LAA] to seek further information.
'The LAA has confirmed that there is no change in government policy on this issue. It would, however, be helpful if you could confirm whether the policy on this sensitive matter is being reviewed.'
By Friday the LAA will have to disclose documents showing the marking by the assessors and moderators of all the claimant firms’ bids.
This includes a sheet which shows for each question the answer from the firm, how the first assessor rated it, how the second assessor rated it independently from the first, and how the moderator (and super-moderator where involved) resolved any differences between them.
The agency has already disclosed documents for a selected sample of cases.