The government’s procurement process for criminal legal aid is continuing to cause a headache for solicitors anxiously waiting for their new contracts as the deadline to sign them looms.
Legal aid firms had until Monday (20 March) to sign the 2017 crime contracts, which the Legal Aid Agency says it is continuing to upload to its e-tendering portal for organisations that are on the forthcoming duty rotas.
This afternoon the agency announced on Twitter that the deadline to accept crime contracts has been extended to 5pm on 22 March. However it advised organisations to accept contracts as soon as possible 'in case you encounter any technical difficulties'.
In an update posted on its website earlier today, the agency said it was continuing to upload crime contract schedules for organisations which will be included on duty rotas in April, which it expects to complete today.
The agency said: 'If you have not received a contract schedule by 5pm today (16 March 2017) and consider that you should have, please check [the Bravo portal] as we may have already communicated with you about this.
'If you consider that your contract schedule is still outstanding please notify the Bravo e-tendering system heading your message “Contract query”.’
Law Society president Robert Bourns said several crime firms have not received their contracts. Chancery Lane had asked the agency to extend Monday’s deadline.
Bourns said: 'We have been in regular contact with the LAA throughout the tender, verification and CRM12 processes, and have resolved a number of issues raised by member firms.
'As a result of pressure from the Law Society and the other representative bodies, the LAA issued clarification to firms that have not yet received their contracts. Firms will now have to wait until the end of today before they can contact the LAA, which will serve to exacerbate an already very stressful situation.
'The Society is acutely aware of the amount of stress that this is causing individual solicitors and those working with them, and that this delay has only served to aggravate that anxiety.’
Yesterday, the agency announced it had updated its ‘contract upload guidance note’ to make the deadline to ‘execute’ contracts clearer.
Bourns said: ‘We want to assure members that we are doing everything we can to hold the LAA to account in terms of obligations in relation to the contract process.’
The Criminal Law Solicitors Association had also contacted the agency today to inform them that many firms have not received their contracts. Chair Zoe Gascoyne said the association had been contacted by many members 'who were understandably in a state of panic'.