Legal aid: More than 100 solicitors’ firms prepared to take the Ministry of Justice to court over changes

Their anger centres on a shake-up of the system under which solicitors are provided to represent people under arrest in police stations and magistrates courts

Nigel Morris,Charlie Cooper
Tuesday 20 October 2015 19:06

Plans for an overhaul of the legal aid system are in crisis as about 100 solicitors’ firms are prepared to take the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to court over the issue.

They are contesting the award of 527 contracts for legal aid work on the grounds that the system for assessing bids was carried out by temporary staff with little specialist knowledge. The process has been condemned by magistrates’ leaders as an “omnishambles” and legal action is planned by companies in almost every part of England and Wales.

Their anger centres on a shake-up of the system under which solicitors are provided to represent people under arrest in police stations and magistrates courts. The number of contracts is being cut from 1,600 and pay rates for the work are being cut.

There are also worries that the reduction in the number of firms delivering legal aid work could lead to long delays for people receiving help, as well as a reduction in the quality of the advice.

A whistleblower at the Legal Aid Agency has alleged that staff assessing the contract bids had been hired from the Brook Street agency, which has scant expertise in legal or public sector procurement.

Reacting to the news, Karen Todner, managing director at Kaim Todner Solicitors, said: “It was like someone taking GCSEs and sending them off for marking, and someone completely unqualified marking them.”

The MoJ insists the recruitment process is legally watertight and said the agency involved would “vigorously defend” itself against challenges.

A MoJ spokeswoman said: “Legal aid is a vital part of the justice system, but we cannot escape the continuing need to secure better value for hard-working taxpayers’ money.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in