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Legal aid cuts force tender delay

22 September 2009

Government plans for big cuts in the fees paid to criminal legal aid lawyers have forced the LSC to postpone the tendering process for new contracts.

Tendering for criminal legal aid contracts, including pilot BVT contracts in Manchester and Somerset, has been put back at least two months until December 2009.

At the end of July, the LSC announced that it was postponing the start of tendering for civil legal aid contracts until the end of this year. At the time, the LSC argued that it was better for mixed practices not to have an overlap.

“Welcome though the LSC’s announcement to defer tendering is, it was inevitable in the light of the uncertainty caused by the MoJ’s latest consultation,” Des Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society, said.

“However, we remain doubtful as to whether even the ministry’s decision following this consultation will deliver enough certainty for tendering to go ahead.

“We have previously made the point to both the MoJ and LSC that procurement law restricts the government’s ability to reduce fees during the life of a legal aid contract.

“We remain concerned that they appear not to understand the limits of what they can legally do. No one should be under any illusions that the Law Society will protect solicitors’ interests.”

A spokesman for the LSC said the delay would allow the MoJ to respond to its consultation.

“The LSC’s view is that it would be unreasonable to start the tendering process for the contract – which includes best value tendering in pilot areas – until the rates are known.”

The spokesman said the new timetable would be published shortly.

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