Tendering for all criminal contracts, including the best value tendering (BVT) pilot process, has been deferred for at least two months, the Legal Services Commission announced today.

Tendering for the 2010 criminal contracts was due to begin in October, but the LSC has put the date back to allow time for the Ministry of Justice to respond to its current consultation on criminal legal aid cuts.

The MoJ published the consultation, ‘Legal aid: funding reforms’, in August, which includes proposals to change payment rates for work carried out under the criminal contract.

The LSC said it would be unreasonable to start the tendering process for the contract, which includes BVT in pilot areas, until the new rates are known.

The MoJ has stated it will respond to its own consultation by December 2009. The LSC said it hoped to publish a revised timetable shortly.

Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson said: ‘Welcome though the LSC’s announcement to defer tendering is, it was inevitable in the light of the uncertainty caused by the MoJ’s latest consultation.

‘However, we remain doubtful as to whether even the Ministry’s decision following this consultation will deliver enough certainty for tendering to go ahead.’

He added: ‘This is not joined-up government. We have previously made the point to both the MoJ and LSC that procurement law restricts the government’s ability to reduce fees during the life of a legal aid contract... the Law Society have fought to protect its members' interests at all times.’