The government has provided some insight into the costs of procuring its new criminal legal aid contracts following the decision to abandon a new contracting regime.

Last week justice secretary Michael Gove announced that he had decided ‘not to go ahead with the introduction of the dual contracting system’.

He will also suspend, for a period of 12 months from 1 April, a second 8.75% fee cut introduced in July last year.

Shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter asked Gove how much the Ministry of Justice had paid in legal fees in relation to the new contracts.

Responding yesterday, justice minister Shailesh Vara (pictured) said, to the end of December 2015, the Legal Aid Agency incurred a total of £141,519 in relation to external legal fees associated with the contracts.

Vara said the external legal advice ‘assisted the [Government Legal Department] commercial team with the drafting of the 2015 own-client and 2015 duty provider contracts’.

Vara said it was ‘not possible to distinguish the cost of work relating to the criminal legal aid contracts incurred by the agency’s internal legal teams from other work undertaken’.

On Monday Lord Falconer asked the National Audit Office to investigate how much the government’s abortive attempt to impose criminal legal aid reforms had cost the taxpayer.

Falconer said: ‘This is a significant change in policy and one that has taken place very late in the day. Not only will many criminal law firms have already taken decisions either to expand or to cut staff based on their success in the bidding process, but much time and expenditure is likely to have already been spent by the MoJ and LAA.’

Falconer’s letter comes after the Gazette reported that the ministry faced compensation claims from some firms who had spent tens of thousands of pounds preparing for the new contracts.

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