Nearly 90% of solicitors are opposed to price-competitive tendering (PCT) for criminal defence work, a Law Society survey has revealed, after the government announced accelerated plans for its introduction.

The online poll of 200 solicitors showed overwhelming opposition to tendering – 89% strongly disagreed or disagreed with it.

Respondents accepted the need for change, with only 12% happy with the status quo. More than half (57%) supported market consolidation by raising quality standards, and 45% supported the concept of a single fee for both litigation and advocacy.

Justice secretary Chris Grayling last week announced an eight-week consultation into PCT – while asserting that a tender for contracts would open in the autumn and that the first contracts will begin in autumn 2014.

Firms seeking contracts will be required to work digitally.

Depending on its scope and design, the scheme could have a devastating impact on the number of criminal defence firms and quality of service. If Crown court work is included, there are fears that it could destroy the criminal bar.

Representative groups, including the Law Society, London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association and Criminal Bar Association, expressed concern at the short timetable for consultation and implementation, which would require the market to totally restructure by autumn.

Criminal Bar Association chair Michael Turner QC said the announcement appeared to prejudge the issues before the consultation.

Richard Atkinson (pictured), chair of the Law Society’s criminal law committee, said that price competition is not appropriate for criminal legal services, given the uncertainty over work volumes, especially with the fall in work over the last two years.

The Law Society’s head of legal aid Richard Miller added that Chancery Lane ‘will take some convincing’ that price competition is workable, but said the Society is ready to work with the ministry to make the procurement process a success.

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