Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Decision made on non-family contracts

A decision has at last been made by the Legal Services Commission (LSC) on the non-family law contracts. It has just announced that all non-family legal aid contracts and family mediation contracts will start on 15 November. The start of the contracts had been delayed by a month due to the Law Society's judicial review.

The LSC had argued that these contracts were linked with the family contracts as the intention behind the civil bid round was to provide 'joined up' services across both family and social welfare law (housing, benefits, debt, employment and community care law). Providers could bid for standalone contracts in employment and community care law, but in many areas they had been expected to bid either in a consortium, or as a single supplier, for housing, benefits and debt work, together with family work.

Family law providers could also bid for family and housing contracts but these contracts, along with the other family law contracts, have been quashed by the High Court, after it ruled that the tendering process to award the contracts was illegal. The oral judgment was given in the case on 30 September, but the transcript of the decision has yet to be released. The LSC is waiting for the transcript, as it has indicated that it may wish to consider an appeal against the High Court's decision. It has 14 days from the issue of the written judgment to lodge an appeal.

The LSC's chief executive, Carolyn Downs, said: 'Our overwhelming priority is to give providers and, above all, legal aid clients, certainty that access to justice will be maintained. We also want to continue to encourage dialogue with representative bodies to minimise any disruption.'

LAG welcomes the LSC's decision. It would have made no sense to continue the uncertainty over the non-family contracts. However, we do not believe that it was sensible only to extend the family contracts to 15 December 2010. Whether the LSC chooses to appeal or not, another extension of these contracts seems inevitable.

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