The Law Society has urged the government to launch an independent review of the crime duty contract procurement process, rather than waste public money fighting the wave of legal challenges launched by unsuccessful bidders.
The call comes as the Ministry of Justice faces legal actions in 69 of the 85 procurement areas. According to the Society, the value of the contracts subject to proceedings is £133m.
Earlier today the government responded to the litigation deluge by delaying the implementation of the new contracts until next April at the earliest. They were expected to commence on 11 January.
Law Society president, Jonathan Smithers, said: ‘The cost of litigation to defend a process which is subject to such a significant number of legal challenges is a waste of public money, at a time when the MoJ, like all government departments, is under serious financial pressure.
‘Criminal legal aid practitioners are also facing costly litigation because of the significant and widespread concerns that the process of evaluation of the criminal legal aid duty solicitor tenders was flawed.’
He called on the government to conduct a ‘thorough appraisal’ of the process rather than pursue such a costly approach.
Smithers added: ‘We believe there is now a serious risk of a knock-on effect to access to justice. Our members are telling us that firms are at risk of collapse, as a result of continuing to operate at reduced rates without the consolidation the MoJ claimed, wrongly in our view, would make the cuts survivable.’
He added that today’s postponement means firms remain unable to plan for their future with any certainty.
Smithers also warned that the litigation may not be dealt with swiftly enough for the new contracts to start in April.
He added: ‘Depending on the outcome of litigation, and given the need for a mobilisation period to enable firms to get ready for taking on the new contract, there will continue to be crippling uncertainty and ongoing and significant delays. The MoJ need to intervene and review as a matter of the upmost urgency.’