The Legal Aid Agency has written to all successful bidders asking them to submit verification evidence by 23.59 on Tuesday 8 December, if they want to do work from the revised new Own Client and Duty contract start date of 1 April 2016.
Firms that have already been asked to submit some verifiation evidence for their successful Duty bids are being asked for additional information, including completed Supervisor forms, whether for ‘crime only’ or prison law as part of their own client contract bid. There is only one Supervisor form for ‘crime only’ as opposed to the five forms under the 2010 contract. Forms can be found here.
The LAA will also carry out further checks on staffing, offices and implementation of the delivery plan submitted by successful bidders, in the run up to 1 April, where it can start Duty Contracts from that date.
1 April 2016
The LAA says it intends to start the new Own Client and Duty Contracts from 1 April 2016 where possible; but where this is not possible due to ongoing litigation, it will allocate work under ‘contingency duty rotas’ to those holding Own Client Contracts. Firms can opt out of being included on these rot as if they do not want to do duty work.
The Law Society has provided some useful information, including provisions between January and April for new firms not holding a 2010 Contract.
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