29th November 2007
Young Legal Aid lawyers have welcomed the decision by the Court of Appeal that the Unified Contract imposed on legal aid firms in April breaches EU public contracting regulations and lacks transparency. Many legal aid firms felt bullied into signing the contract by the Legal Services Commission amid widespread concerns about what the contract would mean for their clients; this judgment has vindicated their concerns.
The action was brought by Dexter Montague & Partners in conjunction with the Law Society against the LSC’s new supplier contract for civil work. They were concerned that the new contract left the LSC free to amend or terminate the contract at will whilst simultaneously imposing severe financial restrictions for a firm that then had to terminate the contract as a result of any changes by the LSC. The judgment considers whether or not the powers of amendment in the contract satisfy the transparency provisions of UK regulations dealing with public sector procurement. The Lord Chief Justice observed that this is an ‘extreme case where the contracting authority has reserved itself a virtually unlimited power of amendment’ and noted that the power to amend the contract ‘is better characterised as a power to rewrite the contract.” He also underlined the importance of transparency in public contracting. For many legal aid professionals transparency and clarity has been missing throughout the whole process of the changes following Lord Carter’s review.
YLAL is also extremely disappointed with the initial response from the LSC, who have stated that this judgment allows them to move forward with ‘more certainty’ and that it will not effect current proposals for change as they were already anticipating this judgment. We urge the LSC to re-consider all current proposals in light of the judgment handed down today, not in light of its pre-conceived notions about the result of the case. The judgment clearly highlights the unlawfulness of the contract.
The Government and the LSC have always insisted that they are committed to providing a high quality, sustainable legal aid system. This judgment shows that, in reality, the contracting process was conducted with contempt for the welfare of many legal aid clients and the future of legal aid professionals. YLAL urges the Government and the LSC to learn the lessons from this judgment. YLAL also looks forward to immediate amendments to the Unified contract and hopes that this judgment will signal a new start for sensible and transparent negotiations between the profession and the LSC.
Notes to Editors
The full judgment can be found at
YLAL is a group formed in April 2005 to respond to growing concerns about the future of the legal aid. The group includes young solicitors, barristers, trainees, pupils, paralegals and law students. For more information please see our website at www.younglegalaidlawyers.org or contact Laura Janes through the contact page of the web site.