A wave of litigation over the government’s award of new criminal legal aid contracts will begin with eight cases, the High Court ruled last week.
The Legal Aid Agency is dealing with 115 procurement law claims and a judicial review, Sarah Hannaford QC, for the lord chancellor, told a case management hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice.
Hannaford said her client was ‘very keen’ to introduce the new criminal contracting regime and had been ‘extremely reluctant’ to delay its commencement from 11 January to 1 April.
Mr Justice Stuart-Smith (pictured) did not grant the group litigation order sought by the lord chancellor. Instead, claimants were ordered to identify five cases within 48 hours or have them chosen randomly by the judge. The lord chancellor was asked to identify three cases.
The choice of cases ‘may be dictated’ by the ability to finance them or how they are to be financed, Stuart-Smith said.
‘At the moment, I do not see this as either necessarily or most likely resulting in a trial as such,’ he added. ‘I’m not wedded to the idea of using a test case.’ The next hearing is scheduled for 16 December.
Stuart-Smith said he had ‘not even begun’ reading papers in relation to judicial review proceedings issued by the newly established Fair Crime Contracts Alliance and London Borough of Newham.
The second hearing ‘will address the state of the JR as well’, Stuart-Smith said, ‘whatever its state is’. Referring to the practicality of handling so many claims, he quipped: ‘I may do a runner after today.’