LSC extends family contracts pending judicial review hearing

first_imgThe Legal Services Commission has confirmed that all current civil contracts will be extended for one month, after the Law Society won an expedited hearing of its judicial review last week. At a directions hearing last Friday, the High Court granted the Law Society’s application for an urgent hearing of its legal challenge to the LSC’s family tender process. The full hearing will take place on Tuesday 21 September. The judge ordered that the new contracts should not be issued pending the hearing, although the LSC’s work on appeals and verification will continue. Following negotiations this week with the Law Society and other interested parties, the LSC has confirmed that the current contracts will now expire on 14 November, with the new contracts beginning immediately. To cover the one-month extension, current contract holders will receive an additional one-twelfth of their new matter start allocation. Law Society president Linda Lee said: ‘We are pleased that our request for an urgent hearing has been granted by the High Court. ‘The significant reduction in the number of firms assigned to undertake family legal aid work will affect the most vulnerable in society. Family law work is a difficult and sensitive area, and these changes will cause more distress for families already under pressure.’ (see Comment). LSC executive director Hugh Barrett said: ‘The LSC is committed to completing this round of tenders. We will be as flexible as possible to ease the process for our providers, and we are doing everything possible to resolve matters to secure quality services for our clients.’ Practitioner groups gave a mixed reaction. A spokeswoman for family lawyers group Resolution, which had not supported delaying the new contracts or the Law Society’s judicial review, calling instead for certainty, said its position is under review. Director of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group Carol Storer said: ‘There are three categories of legal aid providers now – those who were unsuccessful in obtaining contracts, those who have been awarded a contract or contracts but with insufficient cases to be sure that they will be able to make the service viable, and those who were awarded a contract of sufficient volume to make it viable. ‘All three categories of provider now face more uncertainty, and we hope that there will be a resolution that does ensure that clients can access quality services and that quality providers continue.’last_img