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 High Court has quashed the LAA’s tender for housing court duty possession schemes in R (Law Centres Federation Limited) v Lord Chancellor  EWHC 1588 (Admin). The Law Centres Federation argued that the decision to reduce the number of contracts available by increasing the size of scheme areas to cover multiple courts was irrational and in breach of the public sector equality duty.
Andrews J was heavily critical of the LAA and MoJ’s approach to decision making, in particular the gathering of evidence. She found that a series of questionable assumptions without data had been made, and the position of the representative bodies mis-represented. Submissions to ministers were “woefully inadequate” and necessary enquires had not been carried out. As a result, the minister making the decision was misled and not properly briefed, and consequently reached a decision no minister, properly briefed and in possession of all the facts, could reasonably have reached.
It is not yet known whether the Lord Chancellor will appeal or what action the LAA will take to ensure schemes can operate beyond September 2018 now that the tender process awarding new contracts has been quashed, with existing providers already given notice of termination. We will report developments.
The LAA has announced that it is terminating the tender for CLA telephone contracts in the education and discrimination categories because “insufficient compliant tenders” were received, meaning there would not be enough successful bidders to run the service.
As there are currently only a very small number of contract holders, this suggests that there were no or very few bidders prepared or able to deliver the new contracts due to start later this year.
Education and discrimination are gateway exclusive categories – all cases must go through the telephone service and there are no separate face to face providers – all face to face services are carried out by the telephone contract providers, if they deem it necessary.
It is not clear what the future of education and discrimination services will be. The LAA says it will discuss next steps with affected organisations.
But if there are currently no providers willing to bid, or no providers able to demonstrate they can provide services of sufficient quality at an acceptable price, it is hard to see how that will change between now and October, when the new contracts were due to start.
The MoJ decided in 2012 to move education and discrimination services to the gateway with a small number of contracts. At the time many warned that there were significant risks with this approach. Numbers using the service have been lower than expected throughout. And there was concern that such a reduction in the provider base meant that there was no slack if contract holders pulled out or were unable to continue. It appears that fear has also been realised. Hopefully there is enough time for the MoJ and LAA to rethink before education and discrimination legal aid disappears altogether.
Filed under Civil, LASPO, Policy
The LAA has issued some clarification regarding the volumes of services available, and as a result has extended the deadline for submitting bids to 11 December at 5pm. Applicants should be using version 3 of the Information for Applicants. More detail can be found here.