The High Court today granted permission for judicial review of the government’s tender for new legal aid contracts.
The Fair Crime Contracts Alliance, which represents law firms that bid for contracts, was granted permission subject to providing £40,000 security for costs. The lord chancellor will be permitted to apply for more costs after 11 January 2016.
However Mr Justice Stuart-Smith (pictured) said a second claimant, the London Borough of Newham, did not have sufficient standing to bring JR proceedings. Even if the authority did have standing, Mr Justice Stuart-Smith would have directed its involvement be stayed, he told the High Court at the Rolls Building this afternoon.
The High Court is also dealing with 115 procurement law challenges. But Mr Justice Stuart-Smith said there was ‘no doubt' that the remedy being asked for in the judicial review was ‘wider’ and ‘more nuclear’.
Two former Legal Aid Agency contractors are expected to give oral evidence about alleged shortcomings in the contracting process. Jason Coppel QC, for the alliance, said that, at one stage, three whistleblowers from the Legal Aid Agency had come forward. He told the court: ‘This man wanted to help, he still wants to help, but he’s being threatened by the LAA with the consequences including, I understand, litigation if he gives a statement in the JR proceedings.’
Sarah Hannaford QC, for the lord chancellor, responded: ‘That’s taken me by surprise. We can all throw allegations around.’
Stuart-Smith told the court that, given Hannaford's surprise, ‘and the nature of what I’ve been told, it is not appropriate for me to say anything in particular’.
But he told the court that if a ‘properly detailed’ complaint of ‘improper pressure’ were to be placed before the court, 'the court would be provided to rule on it’.
A spokesperson for the Legal Aid Agency told the Gazette this evening that the agency will 'robustly defend any legal challenges including this judicial review.
'Our first priority is to ensure criminal legal aid remains available to those who need it'.