‘It should not be for lawyers to have to defend the contracts’, Law Society on LAA plans

MoJThe Law Society has criticised the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) for its suggestion that successful bidders for duty provider contracts be joined as parties to litigation brought by unsuccessful bidders.

By the end of the week, almost 100 firms who failed to be awarded a duty provider contract are expected to issue proceedings. In response to letters before claim last week, the LAA stated that they would be ‘inviting those firms who have been successful to be joined as parties should you issue proceedings’.

The move, which is unusual in procurement law challenges, has been described by London Criminal Court Solicitors Association President, Jonathan Black, as an ‘unsurprising and classic attempt to divide and rule’ in order to ensure that ‘this appalling and dangerous scheme’ is pushed through.

In a letter to Matthew Coats, the chief executive of the LAA, Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon wrote of the Society’s disappointment in the suggestion that successful bidders be joined as parties, stating:

‘It should not be for criminal legal aid practitioners to have to defend the awarded of contracts, but your organisation as the organiser of the apparently flawed process’.

Referring to the claims made by whistleblower Freddie Hurlston, Dixon stated that there are  ‘significant concerns about the veracity of the tender process and the conduct of the LAA in undertaking the evaluation of the bids.’ Given that the LAA had been ‘well aware’ how contentious the issue was before the award of contracts, ‘our expectation was that particular care would be taken by the LAA to ensure that the process of tender awards was robust and the evaluation process was scrupulously fair and applied equitably’, yet unfortunately ‘it is not clear that the process has been robust or fair’.

 

Not only are there concerns for those firms who have been unsuccessful in the tender, but also for those who have been offered contracts and are unable to make preparations or be secure in the knowledge that they will have a contract at the end of the litigation as a result of the ‘general chaos and uncertainty’.

 

Law Society President, Jonathan Smithers, has described the LAA’s current timetable for implementation as ‘unachievable’, as there is a need for ‘a mobilisation period’ before services can be provided. It has been suggested that contingency plans are required as a result of the likely delays caused by litigation. However, the LAA maintains that the new contracts will go ahead on 11 January 2016 as originally planned, and that the LAA began entering into the contracts on 2 November.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *