Crime tender: essential next steps
Do you want to set up a new crime firm? Have you submitted your crime tender bid? This is what you need to do next.
Having submitted your crime tender bid, there’s still a lot of follow-up work to do and, for much of it, strict deadlines by which it should be done.
Queries and verification
The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) sends emails to the address you provided in your tender. You may need to respond within 24 hours, so make sure that email address is continuously monitored, even if the person is away.
The LAA says it will announce the outcome of the tender in November and announcements are usually made at the last minute. If you are offered a contract, you have to accept (or decline) everything you bid for (Procurement of criminal legal aid services in England and Wales from 1 April 2017: information for applicants (IFA), para 2.5). The LAA will ask you to provide evidence to verify what you said you would do in your bid (see below) if you were not able to do so at the time you submitted it.
12 December 2016
This date is really important as it is the verification date for you to confirm:
•Your firm has been authorised by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) or the Bar Standards Board (BSB).
The SRA says it makes decisions on new applications in between two and three months; the BSB says six to nine months. So, new firms needed to start the application process well before they find out if they have been successful.
•You have an office that complies with the contract (2017 Standard Crime Contract Specification (contract specification), paras 2.44–2.52).
You will need to provide an address, including postcode. This is important as you will only be allocated to duty schemes for offices within the geographical boundaries as shown on the LAA’s duty solicitor postcode tool. Offices have been a contentious issue in the past, with some firms alleging others’ offices were never open, or not properly staffed. This is an area where the LAA may be under pressure to carry out verification visits to see for itself.
•You have a supervisor or supervisors who meet the contract requirements (contract specification, paras 2.1–2.31).
You must have at least one full-time equivalent supervisor. Supervisors must be ‘employees’ (defined in the IFA as including directors and partners but excluding other self-employed people). They can only supervise up to two offices and up to four people (six for prison law). Except in prison law (where it is limited to two), someone can only be a supervisor for one organisation. Supervisors can supervise more than one class of work (eg investigations, proceedings etc) (contract specification, para 1.3).
If you cannot pass verification by 12 December 2016, you may be allocated duty slots from 1 July 2017 if you can pass by 28 February 2017.
13 January 2017
As long as you pass the verification above, the LAA will ask you to submit CRM12s for your duty solicitors so that you can be allocated duty slots from 1 April 2017. Note that the duty solicitor requirements in the 2017 contract were designed to eliminate the phenomenon of ‘ghosts’ (solicitors who hold police station duty slots that they do not attend, but instead sell on), so expect qualifying criteria to be checked (contract specification, para 6.2). Duty solicitors do not have to be ‘employees’, but they do have to do 14 hours’ work for you per week from the office relevant to their slots.
28 February 2017
This is the cut-off date for verification of any other essential criteria that you did not submit with your original bid:
•You hold a quality standard (Specialist Quality Mark (SQM) or Lexcel).
If you are setting up a new firm from 1 April 2017, you have to choose SQM accreditation as it can be awarded provisionally based on documentary evidence alone. An on-site audit will take place after the contract is operational.
•You have submitted indemnities.
If your organisation has limited liability (eg a limited company), the owners of the business must submit indemnity forms by this date.
17 March 2017
This is the cut-off date to submit CRM12s for duty solicitors to be included in the second rota, from 1 July 2017.
Contract management visits
You should expect your LAA contract manager to check that offices meet supervisor requirements and supervisor/caseworker ratios within six months of the contract start date. ■