Bar and Law Society voice concerns over Best Value Tendering scheme

ACCESS to justice is at risk as the Government ploughs on with its reckless approach to Best Value Tendering said the Law Society, the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association as they submitted their responses to the Legal Services Commission's consultation paper on Best Value Tendering (BVT) for certain legal aid services. The Law Society, the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association are all gravely concerned about BVT as currently proposed by the LSC.

The consultation paper was issued in March 2009, and proposes a limited BVT scheme which would cover lower crime work in police stations and the Magistrates' Courts. This would probably be extended should it prove successful.


BVT involves competitive tendering based on price for criminal defence work; solicitors' firms will bid for blocks of work, with the lowest bidder getting the work.

The Law Society together with the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association have strong concerns that criminal legal aid firms could be drastically reduced, meaning the number of firms available to clients will diminish, as the already financially vulnerable supplier base is put at risk.

Paul Marsh, Law Society President said:

"The widespread use of BVT is likely to savagely reduce the number of firms undertaking this work, denying clients access to many competent and dedicated solicitors who want to serve them. The bidding processes proposed are opaque and not suited to the commissioning of professional services, where the freedom of the individual is put at risk"

Amongst the major concerns is the lack of any economic or empirical justification for the proposals, particularly now the legal aid budget
has benefited from significant savings following the Carter reforms. Of equal concern is the failure to conduct a full and proper impact
assessment, taking account of the potential disproportionate impact on women and BME practitioners. This reveals an illogical and flawed process which does not serve the interests of justice.

Finally, the proposals will have a hugely detrimental impact on the quality of representation in police stations, and thereby damage the criminal justice system as a whole.

The Law Society, Bar Council and Criminal Bar Association are deeply disturbed that that there are not even any plans for a proper evaluation of the effect of the scheme and they are working together to lobby the LSC to rectify this.

Commenting on the proposals, Desmond Browne QC, the Chairman of the Bar, said:

"The introduction of Best Value Tendering in this way takes no account of the negative impact it will have on access to justice. We cannot afford to sacrifice the present robust system for a scheme which lacks all economic justification, and which will have a disproportionate impact on BME practitioners. The LSC's failure properly to assess the impact on BME practitioners is potentially discriminatory and may be unlawful; it has a statutory duty to avoid discrimination and promote equality of opportunity, and it has comprehensively failed to comply with this requirement.

Solicitors and barristers alike are united in their opposition to a 'reverse auction' for legal representation, which is likely to drive down standards, make trials more costly and lead to an ever greater number of appeals."

Paul Marsh, the President of the Law Society, said:

"The Law Society has grave concerns that this proposed scheme will be against the interests of justice and will continue to oppose any untested move towards BVT for legal aid services.

With little clear evidence behind these proposals, the Law Society feels that they would damage the proper delivery of justice, which should be there to protect the interests of society, including victims of crime and their families. The Law Society and the Bar are concerned that these proposals as currently drafted have not been properly evaluated for their impact and that they will undermine a justice system already creaking at the seams."

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