The High Court has today handed down judgment in the Judicial Review proceedings initiated by the Law Society questioning the legality of the 2010 eTendering process in relation to the Family Law contract by the Legal Services Commission. Judgement was a resounding victory for the Law Society, solicitors and consumers of legal services. The High Court were deeply critical of the LSC processes. The LSC are now considering their options including whether to appeal. A message posted on the LSC website reads as follows:
You may be aware that the Law Society issued proceedings on our tender for family services. Judgment was handed down on Thursday 30 September in favour of the Law Society.
The LSC is obviously disappointed by the result and remains committed to ensuring that vulnerable people across England and Wales have access to justice. We are currently considering the detail of the judgment and its implications, including whether to appeal.
We are conscious of the uncertainty facing providers and will publish further information in due course on the Civil contract for 2010 tender pages of our website. We will not be able to provide further information on the outcome of these proceedings or the impact on tenders (including appeals) in any category of law prior to this date.
The LSC strongly advises interested organisations to visit our website regularly, rather than telephoning or posting messages through the e-tender message system, as we will be unable to provide individual responses.
The Law Society makes the following comments on their blog (posted 1830Hrs on 30th September 2010):
The Law Society has secured a victory for families across England and Wales after the High Court decided to quash the outcome of the tender round for new family legal aid contracts.
The High Court today declared that the Legal Services Commission’s (LSC) family legal aid tender round was unlawful and severely hindered access to justice for vulnerable children and their parents.
The decision follows a three-day hearing of the Society’s application for judicial review at the Divisional Court.
Law Society President Linda Lee said today’s win is a victory for the thousands of families who would have been left without access to legal assistance when faced with State intervention in their family or the consequences of the breakdown of a relationship.
“The failure of the LSC to anticipate, let alone manage, the outcome of the process was the latest and perhaps most alarming of the LSC’s apparently haphazard attempts to reshape legal aid.
“We are extremely disappointed to have been left with no choice but to take legal action against the LSC, which refused to acknowledge the detrimental effect that this outcome would have on families.
“The LSC’s actions would have seen the number of offices where the public could get subsidised help with family cases drastically cut from 2400 to 1300.
“That would have translated into thousands of people facing grave difficulty in obtaining justice – ordinary people who are already facing extraordinary difficulties.
“Legal aid clients are some of the most vulnerable in society and access to legal representation where required is their only hope of achieving justice.
“The Law Society has always maintained that this wholly unplanned major restructuring of the legal aid market would cause immense uncertainly and instability for many of the poorest and most vulnerable.
“It is regrettable that the LSC didn’t stop to consider the consequences of its actions, before pushing ahead and cutting vital services that clients need and that a civilised society expects to be provided.
“We hope that whatever steps the LSC now takes will see legal aid contracts properly distributed across England and Wales to ensure all families in need have access to justice.
“I thank the Divisional Court for deliberating speedily on this important judicial review application.
The Society was represented by Dinah Rose QC of Blackstone Chambers and Maya Lester of Brick Court Chambers, who were instructed by Bindmans LLP.
Contact: Gemma Buxton, The Law Society, +44 (0) 2073205811