The Legal Services Commission (“LSC”) is planning to introduce price-competitive tendering for criminal defence services, and wants criminal law firms to bid against each other for the work. The Bar Council, the Law Society and the Criminal Bar Association (“CBA”) issued a joint statement as they submitted their responses to the LSC consultation paper which proposes a limited BVT scheme to cover lower crime work in police stations and the magistrates’ courts.
In the statement the groups expressed concern that the number of criminal legal firms could be “dramatically reduced”.
They also highlighted the lack of any economic or empirical justification for the proposals. Desmond Browne QC, Bar Chairman, said: “The introduction of BVT 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 black and minority ethnic practitioners (“BME”). The LSC’s failure to 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.”