Trowers & Hamlins has been instructed by 12 criminal law firms to challenge the Legal Aid Agency’s (LAA) procurement of duty solicitor contracts.
The instruction follows news the LAA, an agency of the Ministry of Justice, is facing legal challenges from around 100 firms to prevent its execution of 520 of the contracts.
The Trowers group and others will allege there was “serious flaws” in the LAA’s assessment of the process and claim the body used temporary staff from an external agency, who had “inadequate knowledge of legal aid”.
The claim centres on an overhaul of the duty solicitor contract system under which solicitors are provided to represent people in England and Wales.
The number of contracts was cut from 1,600 to 527 alongside reductions in rates. In March the Court of Appeal rejected a challenge by the Law Society to Government plans to cut the number of criminal solicitor contracts in what the society called a “devastating blow”.
LAA whistleblower Freddie Hurlston claimed in late October that staff hired by the LAA were not qualified to scrutinise 1,000 bids containing 50,000 responses to questions.
Hurlston, a senior manager at LAA predecessor the Legal Services Commission, said the agency recruits received “very limited” training.
His claims have been strongly rebuffed by the LAA which said its handling of the procurement process was “robust and fair”.
A number of the 100 firms have sent a letter before claim for judicial review of the bidding process to the LAA, which has until today (6 November) to respond.
The claimants instructing Trowers partners Lucy James and Ned Beale are: Kaim Todner Solicitors, SA Law Chambers, IBB Solicitors, VHS Fletchers, Ringrose Law, J W Hughes & Co, Stephen Rimmer, Russell & Russell, Chris Bennett & Co, Owen & Sharpe, Middleton Scanlan, and Waters Moore.
On news of the legal challenge an LAA statement said: “We took this process exceptionally seriously. Assessors received comprehensive training and the entire process was subject to careful moderation and management. We will strongly defend against any litigation. This process was designed to make the best use of taxpayers’ money in times of economic challenge, while making sure high-quality legal advice and help remained available to those most in need of a lawyer.”