Thursday, 28 October 2010

LSC: no appeal on family contracts

The Legal Services Commission (LSC) has confirmed yesterday that it will not be appealing against the judgment made on the Law Society’s judicial review of the family law tender process. The LSC had 14 days from 14 October 2010, when the transcript of the judicial review was published, to decide whether or not to pursue an appeal.

The LSC had extended the current family contracts until 14 December, pending a decision on whether or not to appeal the High Court’s judgment. The judgment quashed the result of the tender round for family and family with housing matters, after finding that the process was illegal (see 1st Oct blog Civil Contracts-what now?). LAG understands that the LSC is now in negotiations with practitioner groups to thrash out a way forward in managing the family legal aid contracts. It says that it is keen to encourage dialogue with the practitioner groups in order to minimise disruption of services to clients. It is likely that it will be forced to extend the current contracts and has the option of doing this until April 2012. The LSC also wants to push through already planned changes in family fees to ensure that the same fees are paid to both barristers and solicitors.

LAG welcomes the LSC’s decision not to appeal against the judgment in the Law Society’s judicial review. An appeal would have led to fresh uncertainty. We believe the LSC is not ruling out a further bid round in family to allocate matter starts. Much still remains unresolved. The way is now open for firms which were successful in the bid round to bring claims for damages. The most pressing problem is that the government is going to consult on planned changes to scope, which is likely to include areas of family law such as divorce and ancillary relief, in the next few weeks. It would seem pointless to run a tender round for contracts which might not be viable in a year or two when these expected changes are introduced.

Non-family legal aid contracts and family mediation contracts will start on 15 November. These contracts had been delayed for a month due to the Law Society’s judicial review. The LSC had initially argued in the judicial review that the non-family contracts were interlinked with the family contracts, but had not pursued this line of argument further at the full hearing. LAG understands that at least four judicial review hearings relating to these contracts are pending, but we believe these could be settled before hearing in circumstances similar to the successful challenge brought by the Community Law Partnership, which withdrew its case after the LSC reversed its decision not to offer it a contract.

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