The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has pushed back the date it plans to enter into new duty solicitor contracts in all procurement areas, the Gazette has learned. 

The decision followed challenges from firms against the bidding process.

The government had originally planned to enter into the contracts on Monday (26 October), which would have given the firms until tomorrow to issue any claims against the contract decisions. The new timeline gives firms an extra week, easing the tight deadline.

Firms were told of the new date in responses to letters before action. The responses informed them the agency would not sign the legal aid contracts until 2 November.

Karen Todner, managing director at Kaim Todner Solicitors, who is helping to organise challenges by dissenting firms, told the Gazette that around 100 firms had issued letters before action.

Commenting on the move, Todner said: 'This is a time for the Ministry of Justice to engage with both the solicitors profession and the bar to work out a way forward.’

The challenges follow the Gazette's revelations of alleged flaws in the procurement process exposed by a former insider at the LAA, Freddie Hurlston. 

An LAA spokesperson said: ‘Organisations successful in the duty crime tender were given until the end of 20 October 2015 to contact the LAA to confirm their intention to accept the contract offers.

‘The LAA can confirm that 519 out of 520 preferred bidders have confirmed their willingness to proceed to verification. The verification process will take place throughout next week. The LAA plans to enter into duty contracts in the week commencing 2 November.’