Written evidence submitted by M Mackey,
president of the Manchester Law Society
I am writing to you on the LSC's proposals for
the future of criminal defence services, termed "Best Value
Tendering for Criminal Defence Services". I am the President
of the Manchester Law Society and, as you may be aware, Greater
Manchester is one of the so-called pilot areas for the above scheme.
Although I write as President, I should point
out that I have practised criminal law for over 35 years
and I am senior partner of Burton Copeland, a nationally recognised
volume supplier of services. My firm has supported previous Legal
Aid Board initiatives, we do not have a reputation for aggressive
billing, have always been LSC "category 1" and were
preferred a supplier for criminal work in that LSC project.
As a practitioner myself, and representative
of others, I am anxious that the LSC appears to be pressing ahead
with yet another hopeless initiative; this one being a straight
run to disaster; for defendants, even the innocent, the criminal
justice system and, of course, the practitioners who facilitate
access to justice in the provision of legal advice and representation.
I appreciate that mainstream opinion may not
concern itself with the provision of a legal system that strives
for justice, except, of course until there is a major and high
profile miscarriage, such as befell my client, the late Sally
My key point is that what the Government is
proposing is not "best value" or indeed any other sort
of tender. This is an auction based on lowest cost. This risk,
and the consequent potential for either significant reductions
in service quality, or simply supplier failure, following a "loss-leader"
bid, was highlighted by your Committee itself in its 2007 report
on the Carter review. The problem is that there is no provision
for the assessment of quality to be a factor in successful bids.
The reason for this is that, despite the years since legal aid
was entrusted to the Commission, they have never been able properly
to assess quality. In your 2007 report your committee said
"Lord Carter and the LSC envisage a bidding process against
the criteria of quality, capacity and price. Not much is known
about the LSC's current thinking about the design of the tendering
process." It does not appear that the LSC has advanced its
thinking on "robust quality control" beyond setting
The so-called "peer review" approach
seeks no more than "threshold competence"; and that
is a phrase coined by LSC, not mine. Small wonder then that over
90% of all suppliers achieve this. Nevertheless, achievement of
threshold competence is the only quality criterion proposed in
bid qualification; therefore competition will not, and cannot,
take place on quality of supply.
As a practitioner, I have tendered (successfully
in some cases) to provide legal services direct to the government
itself. It seems when procuring for itself, the government is
rightly concerned with cost, but also every tender I've completed
requires demonstrations of quality, innovation and so on.
The proposals have so many flaws that I could
not begin to address them in a letter so for the detail I refer
you to the responses to the LSC's consultation from [the Law Society]
[Legal Aid Practitioners Group] [others?].
I do ask that your committee consider an urgent
review of what is proposed. Unfortunately, the time scale proposed
by LSC is such that within months it will too late for action.
26 June 2009