Following the collapse of the last tender, found unlawful by the High Court, the LAA extended the contracts of existing providers. However, in four areas existing contract holders were unable to continue, so the LAA is tendering for replacements. The affected areas are:
- Bodmin and Truro
The tender closes on 26 November at 9am and the IFA can be found here.
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Filed under Civil, Housing
Following discussion with representative bodies, the LAA has amended the crime contract in respect of the 14 hour rule for duty solicitors. The amendments come into force on 23 July. With effect from that date the scope of what can be included in the 14 hour rule has been widened to include
- Work under the contract – such as police station and Magistrates Court work
- LGFS and AGFS work
- Work under the armed forces legal aid scheme
- Work under a court appointment for cross-examination of witnesses
- Privately funded criminal defence work which would come under one of the above headings but for the client being ineligible for legal aid or otherwise electing to pay privately
Where you rely on private work you will need to have consent from your client for the LAA to check what work was done for the purposes of monitoring compliance with the rule. If consent is not given or not sought you cannot rely on this work. This is a positive change which goes some way to broaden the scope of the 14 hour rule. Many practitioners and representative bodies welcomed the principle of ensuring that duty work is only done by those genuinely engaged in the work for the firm benefitting from it. However the narrow drafting of the rule, and some inconsistencies of approach by contract managers, has caused some difficulty in practice. However, while it broadens the scope of what can be counted towards the 14 hours, the change does not affect how the 14 hours are measured. It continues to require an average of at least 14 hours work per week on qualifying work, measured on a rolling monthly basis. Practitioners have expressed concern about the impact of this rule, and its potential discriminatory effect, on those with different working patterns – such as carers, and parents who do not work during school holidays.
As we reported here, the High Court quashed the LAA’s decision to re-configure the boundaries of court duty schemes and tender based on the larger scheme areas. It found the basis for the plan to be so lacking in evidence as to render the decision irrational. As a result the LAA has now announced that it has cancelled the tender. Any bidders previously notified of a successful outcome will not now be awarded a contract. Although the announcement does not set out next steps, we understand the LAA has now written to existing providers offering a one year extension to 30 September 2019. The work will be based on the 2013 contract specification, not the new 2018 specification.The purpose of the one year extension is said to be
to enable a review of relevant policy and to provide the time needed to prepare and run a new procurement exercise for these services.
Existing providers who wish to continue will be required to have a 2018 contract in housing and debt. It is not clear what provision the LAA has put in place where the existing contract holder has not bid for a 2018 contract, which would mean they cannot continue and therefore there is no provider to continue the existing scheme until September 2019.
The LAA has extended the deadline for accepting crime contracts and securing slots on the next duty rotas by two days.
The deadline was due to expire on Monday 20th March, but many firms have reported that they have still not received their contract schedule – and so could not accept and return it.
The LAA has therefore extended the deadline until 22nd March. It posted this on its website this afternoon:
Contract schedules for organisations that have completed verification have now been uploaded and are ready to accept. Unfortunately, this process has taken longer than anticipated and we apologise for any inconvenience.
Accordingly, we have extended the time for you to accept these contracts and secure your rota slots. You now have until 5pm on Wednesday 22 March to accept.
If you have not received a contract schedule and have not received a communication from us about any further delay with your contract documentation, you should contact us via the Bravo E-tendering system and headline your message ‘contract query’.
While the time has been extended, we would advise that you accept your contract as soon as possible in case you encounter any technical difficulties.
We are continuing to upload crime contract schedules for all those organisations which will be included on duty rotas in April 2017. We are aiming to complete this today.
If you have not received a contract schedule by 5pm today (16 March 2017) and consider that you should have, please check Bravo as we may have already communicated with you about this.
If you consider that your contract schedule is still outstanding please notify Bravo e-tendering system heading your message ‘Contract query’.
If you are having trouble accessing your documents in CWA please refer to the guidance available on our website.
Please also ensure that you have set up the requisite number of ‘designated signatories’ on CWA. Guidance on how to allocate a designated signatory in CWA is available on our website.
Following recent problems in processing CRM12 forms the LAA has delayed issuing new duty rotas until March, with revised scheme membership lists coming out this week.
Following the Lord Chancellor’s abandonment of the two tier crime tender last week, the LAA will be extending existing 2010 crime contracts until March next year while a replacement process is designed. The LAA has written to suppliers confirming that new entrants awarded a 2015 own client contract will be able to provide services under a contingency 2010 contract in the meantime.
The LAA will therefore be drawing up new duty solicitor rotas running from April to September 2016. The deadline for submitting any amendments or notification of new duty solicitors is Friday 12 February. The form and more information can be found here.
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
Bidders were to have been notified of the outcomes of their crime duty tenders “in September”. The LAA has today emailed bidding firms to say that it hopes to get the results out on October 15, saying that the delay is because of “quality assurance”.
Update: The MoJ has confirmed that the delay should not affect the contract start date.
The legal aid minister, Shailesh Vara, made a written statement to the House of Commons today. In it he said that the second cut to Crown Court litigator fees of 8.75% will go ahead, effective from 1 July. The tender process for duty crime contracts will also go ahead. But the cut to advocate fees has been shelved.
The implementing regulations were also laid today, along with an impact assessment which, rather optimistically, concluded that
We do not anticipate there would be any major impact on future clients eligible for criminal legal aid services. Any impact on clients would be felt through a lack of legal aid coverage should providers be unable to sustain a second fee reduction. We believe that any potential problems with sustainability are mitigated by the changes to legal aid procurement and the harmonisation of fee structures, which seek to improve efficiency and simplify administration in the criminal legal aid provider market.
This conclusion may well be because the assumption made was that “Providers will deliver the same level and quality of service as at present”. If a starting assumption is that the policy won’t impact suppliers, it is unsurprising when the conclusion is that the policy won’t impact suppliers. We suspect the reality will be rather different.
Meanwhile, the LAA confirmed that it had received 1,099 bids from 500 separate organisations for duty provider contracts, which it described as “sufficient to undertake a viable competition”. We anticipate notifications of the outcome will be sent out in September.
Filed under Costs, Crime, Policy
The High Court today heard an application for an interim injunction in the judicial review of the crime duty tender brought by the CLSA and the LCCSA with the support of the Law Society (the Society’s own separate judicial review application was issued yesterday).
The Court granted an injunction suspending the tender process pending a full hearing of the claim, due on 15 and 16 January.
The MoJ has confirmed it is not appealing today’s injunction, but will contest the full hearing in the new year. Meanwhile, the LAA issued a notice to bidders suspending access to the e-tendering portal, though giving very little other information.
Practitioners would be well advised to continue their preparations for tendering and bid submission. The outcome of the full JR is not yet known and today’s injunction isn’t a guarantee that it will succeed – if it doesn’t, there is a risk that an already tight timetable might become even more difficult.
Filed under Crime, Policy