Legal Business Blogs

Key decision looms for controversial legal aid contracts

Criminal defence solicitors are expected to find out this week whether they will receive funding as the government will reveal who has been awarded new legal aid contracts as part of controversial cost cutting reform.

The Legal Aid Agency, an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), will publicise the awards via its BravoSolution e-tendering portal, notifying firms whether they have won one of a reduced number of contracts to provide 24-hour cover at police stations.

The Law Society lost an appeal in March over government reform to introduce a bidding process for 527 contracts to provide Duty Provider Work (DPW) across England and Wales.

The Lord Chancellor’s decision to cull from about 1,600 to 527 contracts is a part of wider reforms of the legal aid system, which also includes plans to introduce solicitor fee reductions of 17.5% in two stages.  

Firms awarded contracts this month will have exclusive access to DPW, with the aim to provide greater efficiencies of scale so firms can cope with the reduction in fees.

A MoJ spokesperson said applications are to be notified about tenders ‘around the end of this month’ and said: ‘We will have loads of monitoring arrangements in place to spot early potential difficulties and contingency plans to address them. There are also appropriate quality measures in place such as the peer review system to ensure quality of legal advice is maintained.’

‘The changes we are making to criminal legal aid are designed to deliver value for money to taxpayers and do not impact on the availability of high quality legal advice to those who need it most. Although we recognise that the transition will be challenging, these changes will put the profession on a sustainable footing for the long term. We welcome the decision by the legal professions to suspend their action and look forward to continuing to work constructively with them.’

The MoJ has also promised an independent review looking at the impact of the new arrangements which will begin in July 2016. 

Mounting tension over the government’s reshaping of the current legal aid system has seen solicitors and barristers move to strike in recent months, a move which was called off after 52 days as a ‘gesture of goodwill’ to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) following discussions over further cuts to fees.

It appears to have had an effect as earlier this month Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Michael Gove offered to suspend the latest 8.75% cut in fees as a conciliatory gesture following a fresh round of talks between government officials, the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association.