This evening’s Panorama reported on the cuts to civil legal aid, focussing on private family law. It included interviews with the Lord Chancellor who introduced LASPO, Ken Clarke, as well as retired judges, lawyers and litigants affected by the cuts. It can be seen on the iPlayer here, and an article by the programme reporter Raphael Rowe can be seen here.
The practitioner groups failed in their Court of Appeal challenge to the MoJ’s Duty Contract tender today. You can read the judgment here.
The LAA immediately announced that the tender will re-open on Friday 27 March and close at noon on Tuesday 5 May 2015. More information is available here.
That means consideration of bids by the LAA will occur after the general election and there is a considerable difference between Conservative and Labour party policies in respect of Duty Contracts. Labour party policy has been clarified recently and shadow ministers have now confirmed more than once, that they would not retain the dual contract model.
Practitioners could find themselves in the unenviable position of going to a great deal of effort to prepare and submit bids, only for the tender to be scrapped, depending on the outcome of the election.
The litigation has had the effect of delaying the start date of the new contracts to 11 January 2016, which will require a further extension of the current 2010 contract beyond its five year term.
It seems unlikely that the process will conclude without further litigation, either by the representative bodies or individual firms.
The Court of Appeal hearing in the continuing litigation, concluded yesterday. (see previous post).
The Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, who has taken a special interest in the case, said that judgment would be handed down as soon as possible, before Easter. In the meantime, the tender remains suspended.
It is worth noting that the issue of financial viability was extensively explored during the two day hearing. A key issue hanging over practitioners is whether the LAA will implement the promised further 8.75 % fee cut prior to the new contracts.
The more the tender is delayed, the more likely it appears that the LAA will need to implement a ‘plan B’ to ensure that new contracts can replace the existing contracts to deliver duty solicitor services in police stations and Magistrates’ Courts from July this year. However, as the ‘own client’ tender has already concluded and offers have been made, it appears that the LAA could use that as a basis for new duty contracts if it needs to do so.