Legal aid tendering proposals postponed

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The Independent Online

Ministers have postponed plans to make law firms bid for criminal legal aid work.

Defence services in police stations and magistrates' courts were due to be put out to tender across England and Wales from January 2011. But following complaints from law firms, the timetable has been ditched.

Two pilot projects, in Greater Manchester and Avon and Somerset, will start in July next year. They will then be evaluated and the scheme, known as Best Value Tendering (BVT), only introduced elsewhere from 2013.

More than half the respondents to a Legal Services Commission (LSC) consultation said the timetable was too quick and would not allow for the pilots to be properly evaluated.

The Justice minister Lord Bach said: "The LSC has listened carefully to concerns raised by those responding to the consultation and has been persuaded that there is a strong case for delaying the wider implementation of BVT until at least 2013.

"The proposals have been designed to secure best value for taxpayers' money and provide opportunities for practitioners to undertake more work where they have the capacity to do so."

The LSC's chief executive Carolyn Regan said: "In response to the strong concerns expressed we will be moving to a full evaluation of these pilots and a much longer timescale."

The president of the Law Society, Paul Marsh, welcomed the announcement of a delay. But he said there was "no acknowledgement" in the response of the "potentially destructive impact" of the pilots.

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