Pressure is mounting on the Legal Services Commission over its handling of the tender for civil legal aid contracts, as it faces a growing number of judicial review challenges to the process, and talks with the Law Society broke down.
After the Society won its bid to have its judicial review of the family tender process expedited, to take place later this month, the LSC agreed to begin a review of the impact of the tender process immediately. However, whereas Chancery Lane had pushed for a national review, the LSC is conducting separate reviews of each procurement area. It will work with representative groups to address their concerns over access to justice, with local retendering if necessary.
The LSC and Law Society have been unable to agree on the scope or methodology for the review, and Chancery Lane withdrew from the process last week. Law Society president Linda Lee said that, in the absence of a ‘complete review of the national picture’, the LSC’s review was ‘incomplete, flawed and mistaken’.
She added that ‘it is for others to determine their own position in deciding to participate.’
Family lawyers’ group Resolution has agreed to take part in the review, saying it is the best way to guarantee that the LSC deals with access to justice issues.
Meanwhile, three new judicial review actions are due to be heard by the courts over the coming weeks, in addition to the Law Society’s own action listed for 21 September.
Leeds firm Davies Gore Lomax (DGL) has challenged the LSC’s failure to inform it of the outcome of its appeals after it failed to win family and social welfare contracts. DGL also claims the tender process breached bidders’ legitimate expectations because it was not carried out in accordance with the outcome of the consultation process.
London firm Hereward & Foster has launched a separate judicial review, alleging sex discrimination in the LSC’s refusal to award it immigration and community care contracts. The firm claims it lost points under the scoring system because its supervisors, who were mothers with childcare responsibilities, worked the equivalent of a four-day week.
Wembley firm Stanley & Co has also filed a claim against the commission after it failed to get an immigration contract because it did not submit the pre-qualification questionnaire with its application.
Letters before action relating to the family tender have been sent in two other separate cases: one by a group of north-east firms led by Middlesbrough firms David Scourfield and Freers; and another by Sunderland firm Emmersons.
Birmingham practice the Community Law Partnership withdrew its challenge to the social welfare tender last week after the LSC gave it a contract. In an initial hearing, the judge had described the LSC’s tender criteria as ‘irrational’.
A challenge from London firm Azam & Co, which failed to submit its contract application on time, was rejected.
An LSC spokesman said the commission had promised to review the civil tender process when it issued its consultation response in 2009, and the review would ‘seek to identify any areas where issues may exist’. He added: ‘Although the review is in its early stages, we have not ruled out the possibility of further tender activity.’ The spokesman said the Law Society and other groups had been invited to take part ‘to ensure that all relevant views are taken into account’.