Last updated:2023-09-18
Litigation onslaught leaves crime tender scheme in balance
While the official line from the Ministry of Justice as Legal Action goes to press is that it still intends to press ahead with the contracts for 520 successful bidders in the crime tender, the problems around the process are mounting up.
London-based firm Edward Fail, Bradshaw & Waterson is one of around a hundred firms that have brought claims against the Legal Aid Agency. It was disclosed last month that EFBW had lost out in its bid for a contract in Hackney due to a transcription error. While the LAA has admitted the mistake, it has not offered to compensate the firm. In response, EFBW has announced that it is going to seek summary judgment against the agency.
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According to Zoe Gascoyne (pictured), chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, as details emerge of mistakes in the marking of bids, this is likely to prompt more firms to consider taking legal action. ‘They are fighting for survival, so its common sense for them to take action if they believe the LAA made mistakes in marking their tender bids,’ she said.
Gascoyne stressed to LAG that the CLSA and the other representative bodies were ‘now very much round the table’ with officials at the MoJ, trying to negotiate a solution to the stand-off. She said there were ‘more meetings planned for the coming weeks’, but would not comment on whether she believed the contracts could now go ahead.
The judicial review on the tender process, sought by the Fair Crime Contracts Alliance, is due to begin in early April. The lead cases selected from the 100 pending challenges under procurement law are due to go to a further preliminary hearing in May. LAG understands that it could be September or later before these cases are resolved.
LAG believes the LAA wishes to press ahead with introducing contracts in the areas of the country in which there are no challenges to the tenders already awarded. Many observers question whether this can now happen, given that the number of legal challenges looks set to increase.
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David Gilmore (pictured) of DG Legal, a firm of consultants that is advising some of the solicitors bringing claims, believes the LAA made a mistake as it relied too heavily on ‘subjective essay-style questions’ to decide which firms should be awarded contracts. ‘It’s far easier for procurers to administer a tender if they stick to objective criteria as far as possible,’ he said. He suggested that the LAA could use more objective criteria, such as the frequency of attendance at police stations and magistrates’ courts, or ‘even peer review scores’ to distinguish between bidders.