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LSC faces more than 30 judicial reviews over civil legal aid contracts

13 September 2010

The LSC is facing more than 30 judicial reviews from law firms which lost civil legal aid contracts in the latest tender round, it has emerged.

As Solicitors Journal went to press, the LSC had just fended off a judicial review brought by London general practice Azam & Co.

It is understood that the challenge, which reached the Court of Appeal, related to the LSC’s decision to inform firms about the immigration tender round online, rather than in writing.

A LSC spokesman said the commission was “pleased with the judgment in the Court of Appeal and the fact that our immigration tender was in line with European procurement law”.

However, Carol Storer, director of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, said she expected the number of letters sent to the LSC under the judicial review pre-action protocol to rise from around 30 as firms received the results of their appeals.

She said the LSC’s decision to extend the life of existing civil contracts for a month would be helpful to firms without contracts, but successful firms which had taken on new staff and premises would suffer.

Storer said some successful firms were being asked to give back unwanted matter starts, so they could be reallocated elsewhere.

“It’s an extremely difficult situation for everyone,” she added.

Birmingham’s Community Law Partnership discontinued its judicial review last week after the LSC agreed to reinstate its social welfare contract (see Solicitors Journal 154/33, 7 September 2010).

Next week, the High Court in Manchester will hear a judicial review challenge brought by Leeds civil practice Davies Gore Lomax over the award of family and social welfare contracts.

Senior partner Keith Lomax told Solicitors Journal that the review concerned the LSC’s failure to inform them about the fate of the firm’s appeal.

Lomax said the appeals were lodged at the start of August but the LSC failed to reply within a month, as it had promised, so the firm applied for judicial review.

“They’ve handled the whole thing with total disregard to the impact on firms and staff, who face a lengthy period of uncertainty,” Lomax said.

“People do not know whether they are going to be made redundant or whether they are going to be able to pay their mortgage and we don’t know how to budget and organise the firm.”

London immigration firm Hereward & Foster, based in Newham, has launched a judicial review of its own, challenging the LSC’s refusal to award the firm contracts in immigration and social welfare.

Partner Deborah Adler said the firm lost out because female supervisors worked the equivalent of a four-day week. As a result, she said the challenge was “primarily one based on sex discrimination”.

A further review has been launched by Wembley immigration specialists Stanley & Co.

Meanwhile, the Law Society’s judicial review into the award of family contracts is due to be heard at the High Court the week after next.

A group of more than 65 family law firms from across the country has been given permission by Mr Justice Irwin to join the judicial review an interested party.

Oliver Hudson, chief executive of Stamps Family Solicitors in Hull and spokesman for the group, said new firms were joining the group at the rate of a dozen a day.

“Our message to firms is ‘don’t drop your heads and give in’. We’ve got one opportunity to challenge this, so it’s time to stand up and be counted.”

Hudson said some of the family law firms in the group had been successfully awarded contracts.

“They are concerned about the cull of family law firms and the impact it will have on the provision of services in their area,” he said.

“They also agree that the whole process was an absolute debacle. Whether you were successful or not, it was an absolutely horrendous experience.”

Hudson added that most of the firms in the group had contributed £1,000 each to a fighting fund.

The Law Society’s judicial review is scheduled for Tuesday 21 September with judgment expected on Friday 24 September.

Earlier this month the LSC and the society provisionally agreed that there should be a one month extension to the life of the current civil contracts, due to expire on 14 October 2010.

A spokesman for the LSC said this was to allow sufficient time to “work through the judicial review process effectively”.

He said that current contract holders would receive an additional one twelfth of their new matter start allocation.

Hugh Barrett, executive director of the LSC said: “The LSC is committed to completing this round of tenders.

“We will be as flexible as possible to ease the process for our providers, and we are doing everything possible to resolve matters to secure quality services for our clients.”

Categorised in:

Legal Aid Procedures EU & International Local government