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Competitive tendering plans to be launched later this year

11 October 2011

The government will reveal its competitive tendering plans for criminal legal aid work later this year, justice secretary Ken Clarke has said. There had been speculation that the move would be delayed.

In a letter to Peter Lodder QC, chairman of the Bar Council, Clarke said the government’s intention remained to introduce price competition in legal aid work, “initially in crime but eventually across all legal aid services”.

He went on: “We expect that, in common with other public services, this will involve improved and less bureaucratic ways of engaging with suppliers on the part of the government, and new ways of working on the part of suppliers, maximising the efficiencies and benefits of new technologies and alternative methods of working.

“As far as legal aid is concerned, the government believes, and will seek to ensure, that competition will encourage a sustainable supplier base in the longer term.”

Clarke said that “as a first step” the government intended to consult on the proposals for criminal legal aid “later this year”.

The justice secretary said he was committed to working with the Bar to ensure the necessary improvements were delivered “without compromising the supply of high-quality advocacy”.

But he warned that “making a success of this depends, in turn, on the Bar embracing new ways of working and actively taking advantage of the opportunities presented by new developments in technology and regulation”.

In a separate development, Clarke announced last week that the government would be putting forward an amendment to the legal aid bill to introduce a new offence of ‘causing serious injury by dangerous driving’.

The offence will carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison, three years more than the current maximum for the offence of dangerous driving.

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