Criminal Legal Aid Contracts - An Update - January 2016
In October 2015, the Legal Aid Agency considered all the tenders that had been submitted for criminal legal aid duty contracts.
The night before the Legal Aid Agency announced which bids were to be successful, a whistleblower who worked on the LAA team assessing the bids threw the process into some doubt. Freddie Hurlston, who was previously head of criminal justice system initiatives at the Legal Services Commission (the predecessor to the LAA), said many of the staff assessing the bids were from a temporary staff agency on around £9.30 an hour and had no knowledge of legal aid or previous experience of public sector procurement.
It then emerged that legal firms from 75 of the 85 procurement areas sought to seek a judicial review of the proceedings. In early December, the High Court granted them permission to do so. Two former Legal Aid Agency contractors (including Hurlston) are expected to give oral evidence at the hearing which is currently listed for 7th April. This thwarted the government’s plan to implement the new contracts in January. It is intended that they will now commence on 1st April 2016.
Today (7th January 2016), the Legal Aid Agency has admitted to a ‘basic transcription error’ in the marking of bid received from Edward Fail, Bradshaw and Watson (EFBW), a criminal defence firm which has been representing those in need of legal assistance in London since 1887. The error is in relation to the scoring of at least one of the firm’s bids. The LAA acknowledge that if the error had not been made, EFBW would have scored higher than at least one of the purported successful bidders and would therefore have been awarded the contract.
Paul Harris, Managing Partner of EFBW, and one of the solicitors that led engagement with the MoJ on behalf of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association and the Criminal Law Solicitors Association regarding the scheme during the summer, implored the Jusrice Secretary Michael Gove MP to “take a fresh look and find a way out of this mess."
Update by Gemma Blythe, YLAL committee member