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MoJ ‘baffled’ by Law Society’s legal challenge

Caplen hoping to combine claims made by LCCSA and CLSA into one hearing

22 December 2014

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The Law Society has formally sought a judicial review of the legal aid crime duty contract tender process.

The legal profession has been vocal in its condemnation of the government's announcement in November to continue with its plans for two-tier contracts for criminal legal aid, as well as a second fee cut of 8.75 per cent next year.

The legal challenge by the Law Society is the latest that the embattled Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, and the Ministry of Justice will have to face on the thorny issue of legal aid.

A spokesperson for the MoJ said: "We worked very closely with the Law Society as we drew up the tender proposal. They publicly acknowledged we listened closely to their views and made changes to our proposals as a result.

"Given their own council voted in favour of continued engagement with us, we are baffled as to how they are trying to challenge something they helped develop. This government has to make savings in everything it does to fill the financial hole it was left with."

Commenting on the move, Law Society president Andrew Caplen said: "In the interests of access to justice, the public and the legal profession, we have now taken steps to formally seek a judicial review of the legal aid crime duty tender process. In our opinion, the process creates a serious risk of market failure which could have major implications for society as well as the profession."

Interim relief

The Society decided to launch its own legal challenge at a council meeting on 10 December. The Society has also offered financial support to the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA) and the Criminal Law Solicitors Association (CLSA) so as to support their work on judicial reviews against the tender process.

"Our claim supports many of the arguments put forward by the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association and London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association, and we hope to combine both claims into one hearing," said Caplen.

"We know that our members have concerns about their livelihoods, but also more widely about the impact the outcome of the process will have on access to justice for the most vulnerable in our society. We anticipate the review being heard very quickly, possibly as early as mid-January."

The judicial review application by the LCCSA and CLSA is set to be heard on 15 and 16 January 2015.

The LCCSA had requested interim relief to suspend the tender process. While this was, however, rejected, an oral application has been made and a decision is expected to be made by Wednesday 24 December. The groups have also urged criminal practitioners to hold off signing the contract until 16 January 2015. The deadline is 23 January.

John van der Luit-Drummond is legal reporter for Solicitors Journal

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