Despite previous statements which indicated its intention to press ahead with the introduction of new Duty and Own Client contracts in January, the LAA announced today that all existing contract holders will be invited to apply for an extension to the end of March 2016. It also said new litigator fees would be deferred to that date.
Legal challenges are believed to have been issued by unsuccessful bidders in 69 out of the 85 procurement areas. The Law Society has estimated that 85% of the value of the proposed new contracts is being challenged and has provided a map which illustrates the challenges at local level.
The Law Society is calling for an independent review of the process as a second whilstle-blower has emerged to reinforce the claims of the first.
The LAA says the claims will be robustly defended but has also said that they have a backstop date for new contracts of 10 January 2017 in the ‘unlikely’ event that new contracts cannot be started before then.
In the meantime, crime firms continue to live with significant uncertainty and many will be suffering financially.
UPDATE: The LAA has published an FAQ on the contract extension.
There have been changes to a number of civil forms, with effect from 1 November. The affected forms are:
Any forms signed or dated from 1 November onwards must be the new ones. Forms signed before 1 November must be submitted by 30 November. You can see all the forms on the LAA website here.
Out now – new editions of the LAG Legal Aid Handbook and the Solicitors Office Procedure Manual
The LAA has been sending bidders for crime duty contracts the outcomes of their tenders today. At the time of writing, many firms still had not been told their result. The LAA have told the Law Society Gazette that they will release all results before midnight.
Even those results that have been released have not been trouble free. One firm was briefly awarded a contract in Cheshire despite neither being based nor having bid there. Legal aid consultant David Gilmore tweeted that he knew of two bids which failed because they had been marked down for not discussing working with partners – even though they weren’t proposing to deliver in a partnership.
The results were delayed because of “quality assurance”. That “quality assured” results nevertheless contain such glaring errors is worrying, and lends support to the allegations of poor quality processing and decision making made by one of those assessing the bids yesterday. It is hard to see an explanation for taking 15 hours to contact less than 1,100 bidders unless the process is still not finished.
The LAA also announced today that the timetable for the rest of the process hasn’t been lengthened despite the delays. Successful bidders must confirm acceptance by 23:59 on 20 October – only three working days for those not notified until this evening. That is despite the whole economic model on which many will have tendered having since been undermined by the advocacy consultation and the court closure programme announced since bidding closed. Whatever the truth of yesterday’s allegations – a matter that will no doubt be much litigated in the coming months – the way that the LAA has handled this process has been quite disgraceful.
Filed under Crime, Policy