The Legal Aid Agency insists a new legal aid advice ‘desert’ will not emerge in Devon following remarks made by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal when it struck a criminal legal aid solicitor off the roll.
Sole practitioner Anthony Robert Dart, who was struck off after watching pornography in his office with a vulnerable female client who had an outstanding bill, was based in Barnstaple.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority confirmed that Dart’s firm, Tony Dart Solicitor & Advocate, closed on 1 November.
The tribunal, in its judgment, said the case 'constituted a personal tragedy’ for Dart 'and quite possibly for the criminal legal aid work in the region in which he practised’. Dart undertook ‘a very significant proportion’ of all criminal legal aid work in the area, the judgment states.
The agency confirmed that Tony Dart Solicitor & Advocate covered the Barnstaple area of Devon. But it assured the Gazette that Barnstaple still had adequate provision.
A spokesperson for the agency said: 'We regularly monitor capacity across criminal legal aid contracts and make sure sufficient advice is available. We are satisfied that there is currently adequate provision in the Barnstaple area and we are working with local providers to reallocate work where necessary.’
Last year the agency had to reopen a tender process for new criminal legal aid contracts in the Devon and Cornwall 1 procurement area, after receiving insufficient bids.
Eight contracts were available but the agency received four bids. Following a meeting with local providers, in which travel requirements were identified as a key barrier to covering the entire procurement area, the area was subdivided into four smaller zones – centred in Exeter, Plymouth, Teignbridge/Torbay and Barnstaple.
The controversial two-tier contracting regime was scrapped in January. A new non-competitive tender process opened in July.
The agency was unable to comment on whether Dart’s firm had applied for one of the new criminal legal aid contracts due to the ongoing tender process. New crime contracts begin on 1 April.