Transforming Legal Aid: evidence taken by the Committee - Justice Committee Contents


Report



1. On 9 April 2013 the Government published a consultation paper Transforming legal aid: delivering a more credible and efficient system, containing a range of proposals for changes to the system for provision of criminal and civil legal aid in England and Wales. Central among these was the proposal to introduce a model of competitive tendering for provision of criminal legal aid services.

2. We have received many representations on the proposals contained in this consultation paper, both before and after the 4 June deadline for consultation responses to be made to the Government. Many respondents to the consultation sent us a copy of the response they had submitted. In light of those representations,[1] we have held two oral evidence sessions to increase public and parliamentary understanding of the issues at stake.

3. On 11 June we took evidence from representatives of the Bar Council, the Law Society, the Criminal Bar Association, the Criminal Law Solicitors Association and the Legal Services Consumer Panel, as well as Mr Tudur Owen, a Welsh criminal legal aid solicitor and Professor Roger Smith OBE, the former Director of JUSTICE who is currently a visiting professor of law at London South Bank University and an honorary professor at the University of Kent. At this session we focused on the price competitive tendering proposals in the Government's consultation paper. Following the session we wrote to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Bar Standards Board and the Legal Services Board to ask about the feasibility of undertaking regulatory authorisation of new market entities within the timescale envisaged by the Government's tendering process. We append this correspondence to this Report (Appendix A).

4. On 3 July 2013 we took evidence from the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, the Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, on price competitive tendering and other aspects of the Government's proposals. Shortly before the session Mr Grayling wrote to our Chair to indicate that he had already decided to revise his proposals in order to reintroduce client choice to criminal legal aid representation. At the same time the President of the Law Society wrote to us indicating that they had been involved in "constructive discussions" with the Lord Chancellor. We publish those letters with this Report (Appendix B and C). At the oral evidence session with the Lord Chancellor, discussion covered the following topics:

a)  The general consultation process and procurement issues (Questions 124 to 128, and 229 to 239);

b)  Criminal legal aid - competitive tendering (Questions 129 to 189, and 194 to 197);

c)  Criminal legal aid - harmonisation of guilty plea, cracked trials and basic (two day) trial fees (Questions 190 to 193);

d)  Prison law eligibility (Questions 198 to 210);

e)  Civil legal aid - introduction of a residence test (Questions 211 to 217);

f)  Civil legal aid - changes to payment in Judicial Review applications (Questions 218 to 228).

5. Following our evidence session with the Lord Chancellor, we wrote to him requesting clarification in relation to the baseline figure against which sums are to be saved, as well as further information on his proposed timetable. We include a copy of this correspondence at Appendix B.

6. During our evidence session, the Lord Chancellor informed us that the Ministry will be holding a second consultation on the criminal legal aid competitive tendering proposals in September 2013.[2] He confirmed that client choice will be retained,[3] with the result that providers will not be guaranteed equal shares of work,[4] and clients will not be restricted to choosing providers within a Ministry-set procurement area.[5]

7. We note that the Ministry has not concluded its analysis of responses to the consultation, and we assume that, in addition to the consequential changes the Government will have to make to the price competitive tendering model as a result of the reinstatement of client choice, other changes may yet be made to the Government's proposals on this and other matters covered by the consultation. We intend to invite the Lord Chancellor to appear again before the Committee to examine the Government's overall response to its initial consultation, and the proposals which are included in its second consultation on the competitive tendering process, in autumn this year.

8. We note that there are other issues which will not be covered in the second consultation and on which the Lord Chancellor expressed his views in the evidence session.[6] These include the ending of legal aid for cases relating to prison treatment matters and some sentencing matters, the limitation of legal aid for judicial review, and the 12-month residency requirement (which the Lord Chancellor told us he was "going to look at again" in relation to "children under 12 months"[7]). We draw the attention of the House to the exchanges on these issues at the evidence session.

9. We are most grateful to all those who have written to us on this subject, and to those who have given oral evidence to us. We draw the attention of the House to the evidence which we have received.


1   Given the volume of representations we have received it has not been possible for us to acknowledge or respond to all of them, although all have been taken into account. Back

2   Q 157 Back

3   Q q 124, 129 Back

4   Q 134 Back

5   Q 183 Back

6   Qq 198-228 Back

7   Q 212 Back


 
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Prepared 18 July 2013