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Law Society prepares for action against LSC over family law contracts

LSC disappointed by Law Society’s challenge

The Law Society has sent a pre-action protocol letter to the Legal Services Commission, challenging the lawfulness of its decision to proceed with the allocation of family law contracts, notwithstanding the wholly unexpected outcome of the tender process.

The Law Society says that the result of the tender would see the number of family law firms offering legal aid reduced from 2,400 to 1,300, with the loss of many highly expert lawyers from the legal aid system, and the development of significant geographical gaps and shortages of services.

The Society concedes that of those firms who have succeeded in obtaining a contract many are satisfied with the outcome and would prefer that nothing was done to disturb the result. However, many firms that have failed to obtain a contract face having to make redundancies or even close their firms. The Society says that it aware of the difficulty taking action may cause those successful firms who are planning to expand their businesses either by volume, new work type or a new geographic location.

The Society considers that the outcome is not consistent with the LSC's duties under the Access to Justice Act, or its obligation to undertake proper Equalities Impact Assessments. It has therefore invited the LSC to extend the existing contracts for family law for a short period in order to give it time to conduct a review addressing these issues, and to identify such further steps as may be necessary to ensure that it meets its statutory obligations.

Nevertheless, the Society stresses that it is for the LSC to ensure compliance with its legal obligations, and if it does not do so, and access to justice for vulnerable clients is threatened as a result, it is ready to take all appropriate steps to secure such compliance.

For more details of The Law Society's stance, click here.

The LSC has responded by saying that it is disappointed by this development. It considers that further uncertainty will have a far greater destabilising effect on the availability of family legal aid than allowing the tender to take its course.

It has added that under the new contracts, the LSC will commission the same level of help as last year, therefore, contracting with fewer legal firms does not equate to providing less access to justice.  The LSC has selected providers who demonstrated the highest level of expertise and experience under the competitive process and allocated work in accordance with their bids.

It accepts that, in a very small number of procurement areas, there are issues for it to address.  However, the tender is not yet complete as it is currently carrying out a verification exercise and completing appeals.