Law firms win judicial review case against LSC

Two law firms, Public Interest Lawyers and RMNJ, have successfully fought a judicial review case against the Legal Services Commission (LSC).

Two law firms, Public Interest Lawyers and RMNJ, have successfully fought a judicial review case against the Legal Services Commission (LSC).

Backed up by 10 other firms the pair brought the case to challenge the way the LSC awarded contracts in November for publicly-funded legal services in public law and mental health.

The claimants alleged that the LSC failed to verify the quality standards of the firms contracting to provide services. They said that was a breach of the equality standard required by the Public Contracts Regulations 2006 which implemented an EU directive into UK law.

The second claim alleged that the LSC failed to comply with the general disability equality duty in Disability Discrimination Act 1995 when it put out to tender legal services contracts for patients in high security mental hospitals. As well as significantly reducing the number of law firms providing the services, the claimants said the process would affect patients’ well-being as many would have to forge new relationships with lawyers.

The firms also alleged that the LSC breached the Access to Justice Act when it contracted with specialist public law firms.

In a judgment handed down last week (13 December) Mr Justice Cranston upheld the quality standards claim. He said verification of standards had fallen short, and this “could have a consequent impact upon the quality of publicly funded legal services.”

Examining the claim relating to the Disability Discrimination Act, Cranston J said the LSC had complied with the act and should have “due regard” for the issues of equal treatment raised by the claimants.

“However, the issue of the impact on patients in high security hospitals of the need for many of them to change long established legal advisers is now on the agenda. It is only recently that it became known that the high security hospitals were not consulted,” he added.

Cranston J dismissed the access to justice aspect of the claim, saying the LSC’s consultation had been adequate and more firms now held public law contracts.

As a result of the case the LSC now has a duty to go back and verify the quality standards of around 120 law firms awarded contracts during the recent tendering process.

Public Interest Lawyers instructed Saimo Chahal, Bindmans’ civil liberties and social welfare team head with Doughty Street Chambers’ Paul Bowen as lead counsel.

The public law claim was supported by law firms Pierce Glynn, Bhatt Murphy, John Ford Solicitors and Bindmans.

Duncan Lewis & Co, MH Legal, Albin & Co, Steel & Shamash, Henry Hyams Solicitors, Bindmans and Campbell-Taylor Solicitors supported the mental health claim alongside the Mental Health Lawyers Association.

An LSC spokesperson said the case failed to overturn any of the tender decisions made by the commission.

“The judge found that the LSC’s tender process did not breach the Disability Discrimination Act, and his judgment confirms that we met our legal obligations under the Access to Justice Act. We are pleased that the uncertainty caused by this litigation has ended. 

“However, we accept the court’s criticism of the verification process for our supervisor standards in public law and mental health. We are currently reviewing what additional verification needs to be undertaken as a result and will publish details on our website in due course,” the spokesperson said.

The LSC instructed 11KBW’s Paul Nicholls to lead its defence of the claims.