The Law Society has warned firms planning on contesting the legal aid duty contract process that they must issue proceedings by Friday.
The Society said meeting the deadline is ‘vital’ for asking the court to set aside the Legal Aid Agency’s decision to enter into contracts with rivals. It also suggested firms write to their MPs to tell them what impact the new contracts could have on their constituency.
Chancery Lane noted that at a meeting held for firms on Monday, procurement lawyers had advised dissenters that they could send a letter before action and ask for an extension of time from the LAA to issue any claims.
But the Society today stressed that the LAA is under no obligation to grant an extension, and that firms should not rely on getting one.
It also reminded members that successful bidders had until midnight yesterday to indicate whether they would accept contracts, and in the event of non-acceptance the LAA would offer a contract to the next-highest-scoring bidder.
‘We have asked the LAA in how many cases they have not received an indication of acceptance, and when any such offers might be sent out, but have not yet been provided with this information,’ the Society said
Yesterday Labour shadow justice minister Karl Turner MP, joined criticism against the LAA about the bid process after a former insider at the LAA, Freddie Hurlston, exposed flaws in the process. Hurlston's criticisms, revealed by the Gazette on 16 October, were reported by the BBC yesterday.
Turner said government had made ‘a complete mess’ of the procurement process and that reports about bids being handled by inexperienced, temporary staff were ‘deeply worrying’.
‘Labour, practitioners and experts warned from the start that this was a flawed policy but ministers pushed ahead regardless,’ he said. ‘With many firms now thinking of challenging the process in the courts, the government really need to get their act together.’
Meanwhile a leading figure in the campaign against legal aid cuts, Robin Murray, today stepped down as vice-chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association. In a statement Murray cited ‘exhaustion’ and the pressing needs of his practice.
He said that after having been on the front line for many years during the most challenging and difficult time for the profession in its history ‘the time has come to pass the torch to the new generation’.