Proposed reforms contained in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill would, if the Bill becomes law, be postponed until April 2013, six months later than the original date for implementation.
The MoJ has also postponed its consultation on price-based competition (‘best value tendering’) for the Criminal Defence Service from late this year to autumn 2013. The first contracts would not go live before the summer of 2015. According to the MoJ, the delays recognise the “significant changes” affecting providers, including the legal aid reforms, the introduction of Alternative Business Structures and the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates.
An MoJ spokesperson said: “New contracts to provide civil and family advice will be offered to lawyers in April 2013, which will give them sufficient time to consider the final details of the new legal aid scheme which Parliament is expected to agree in spring 2012.
“Once lawyers have adjusted to the new scheme and other regulatory changes, we will consult in autumn 2013 on introducing competition for criminal defence work, with a view to extending it to civil and family work at a later date.”
The Bar Council welcomed the postponements and in the interim called for swift settlement of outstanding fees owed to advocates by the LSC.
Peter Lodder QC, before handing over to Michael Todd QC as Chairman of the Bar, explained that the Bar Council had raised concerns for several years about the introduction of price-based competition in public services provision.
“The Bar has repeatedly argued for the need to maintain high quality advocacy, in the public interest, especially during this time of acute fiscal austerity and as significant changes in the provision of legal services are being made,” he said.
He pledged that the Bar Council’s campaign against many of the proposals in the Bill, and expressed concern about unpaid advocates’ fees would continue.
“We note the delay in the abolition of the LSC but we remain very alarmed about the continuing and worsening problem of late payments of advocates’ fees,” he said.
“The Bar Council calls on the MoJ to ensure that the LSC is properly resourced to meet its continuing responsibilities. The government should honour its obligation to pay members of the Bar for services they have provided – in some cases, very many years ago.
“The Government has affirmed the importance of timely payment to small businesses, but it is failing to set an example by allowing these appalling delays to continue.”
Outgoing Chairman of the Bar Council, Peter Lodder, QC