The High Court has dismissed a law firm's challenge to a government legal aid contract decision - seven years after judicial review proceedings began. Mr Justice Coulson hoped the 'sorry saga' would be regarded as an example of how not to conduct a public procurement challenge.
In July 2010 Hersi & Co Solicitors appealed the decision of the Legal Services Commission, the Legal Aid Agency's precursor, not to award the London firm a contract to provide legal aid services for immigration and asylum, and mental health work.
Under the tender, there were seven questions grouped under the heading 'selection criteria'. The firm answered the first three questions but left the last four questions blank. It failed to gain the number of points required for a contract.
Hersi & Co began judicial review proceedings in November 2010. The firm also alleged inequality of treatment.
Publishing a 44-page judgment this week, Hersi & Co Solicitors v The Lord Chancellor (as successor to the Legal Services Commission), Coulson dismissed the firm's challenge. Coulson said: 'The long and the short of the position here was that the claimant had failed to answer questions 5-7 and everyone else who had failed to answer those questions was treated in precisely the same way by the defendant. The case that raised the treatment of other applicants by reference to other elements of their tenders was irrelevant, disproportionate and futile.'
Coulson said the delays in the case were 'inexcusable' and the firm's conduct of the case was 'wholly unsatisfactory'. He added: 'It cannot be right that in the modern age, a case of this kind can be allowed to take seven years to get to trial.'
Detailing the procedural history, Coulson said: 'In my view this litigation has been conducted in an abysmally slow and haphazard fashion. No regard has been had to the orders of the court, or to the CPR (which contrary to the belief in some quarters, applies to the administrative court just as it applies to all other parts of the High Court). The claimant has been in breach of both court orders and the rules. I very much hope that no case ever comes to trial in the [technology and construction court] again with a six-year procedural history.'
Hersi & Co declined to comment on the case.