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Leeds legal aid firm launches second judicial review

12 October 2010

Leeds firm Davies Gore Lomax has launched a second judicial review against the Legal Services Commission.

The firm won a judicial review against the LSC in Manchester last month over the commission’s failure to reveal whether or not it had succeeded in an appeal against the loss of its contracts in social welfare and housing.

The LSC agreed at the hearing that it would make a decision on the appeal and let the firm know by a fixed date. Keith Lomax, senior partner of Davies Gore Lomax, said the firm lost the appeal.

However, the Law Society’s successful judicial review in the High Court at the end of last month means the firm will keep its family contract.

Lomax said that, without the new social welfare contract, the firm could not offer housing, welfare benefits or debt services when the existing civil legal aid contract expires on 15 November.

“We have more qualified housing lawyers than any other firm in Leeds,” Lomax said. “We run the duty possession scheme at Leeds County Court, which we set up in 2004.

“To get a contract, you do not have to demonstrate that you have been into a court and defended a possession claim. We have brought housing cases to every court in the country, including the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights. That information was regarded as irrelevant.”

Lomax said the firm failed to win the social welfare contract by three points. Two were lost because the firm did not have an approved intermediary for debt relief.

“We did not expect to have to have one in place by the time of submitting the bid because the LSC said in its consultation response last summer that we did not need to have one in place until six months after the start of the contract. The way this was sprung on us was grossly unfair.”

Lomax said the criterion in the social welfare tender requiring firms to have an intermediary in place to gain maximum points was “even more unfair” than the requirement that family firms should have a caseworker on both panels.

“The person we chose to be an intermediary was on maternity leave until July. She qualified on Friday last week, in time for the original start date of the contracts on 14 October.”

Lomax said the firm lost a further point because it had not taken ten welfare benefits cases to the upper tier tribunal.

The same point was raised by the Community Law Partnership, which regained its contract after taking the LSC to a judicial review in August. Mr Justice Collins, sitting in Birmingham, was reported as describing the criteria for the social work tender as “totally irrational” (see, 27 August 2010).

Lomax said the firm had not taken ten cases to the upper tribunal because it had not lost ten cases in the lower tribunal. He said the firm’s judicial review was due to be heard in London on 27 October.

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Legal Aid Financial services & Tax Wills, Trusts & Probate Local government