The Law Society has urged two parliamentary select committees to investigate the government’s procurement of new criminal legal aid contracts.
The Legal Aid Agency is unable to proceed with the new crime duty provider contracts in 69 out of 85 procurement areas until it has resolved 115 procurement law challenges in relation to its tender process. The agency has delayed commencing the contracts until 1 April due to the litigation.
Jonathan Smithers, president of the Society, today wrote letters to Bob Neill MP, chair of the justice select committee, and Meg Hillier MP, chair of the public accounts committee, over concerns the LAA’s evaluation process was ‘not robust’.
In his letter to Neill, Smithers said the Society was concerned the evaluation process used by the LAA ‘was not robust and believe this requires an independent assessment to be made to restore confidence, to help to resolve the litigation quickly, and end the chronic ongoing uncertainty for all firms involved in this process (whether they have been awarded a contract or not) and crucially for the citizens and communities across England and Wales who need access to the justice system’.
Smithers called for the justice select committee to ‘intervene and initiate an investigation into the tender evaluation process as a matter of the utmost urgency’.
In his letter to Hillier, Smithers asked the public accounts committee to hold an evidence session to look into the agency’s operation of the procurement process.
Smithers said: ‘We believe that the cost of litigation to defend a process, which is subject to such a significant number of legal challenges, is against the National Audit Office’s three criteria for determining value for money – economy, efficiency, effectiveness – particularly at a time when the Ministry of Justice is under serious financial pressure.’
Smithers asked the public accounts committee to intervene and request that the LAA explain how it intends to rectify problems in the tender process ‘as a matter of the utmost urgency’.
The lord chancellor was not granted a group litigation order by the High Court at a case management hearing on Wednesday. Instead, the litigation will begin with eight lead cases.
The next hearing is scheduled for 16 December.