Friday 05 April 2013 by Catherine Baksi

The Law Society has published its own consultation on the 'potentially catastrophic' price-competitive tendering (PCT) model in advance of the government's paper expected later this month.

The Society is calling on solicitors to respond with alternatives to the planned introduction of PCT for the tendering of publicly funded criminal defence work, which it predicts will be 'hugely expensive to implement and possibly unworkable'.

The paper accepts that there needs to be consolidation in the market, but seeks the views of the profession on six key areas.

? What quality measures should be used to guarantee the standard of bidders. Specifically, the paper asks specifically 'do you agree that it would not be appropriate to impose any threshold criteria by reference to QASA - the quality assurance scheme for advocates?'.

? Whether there should be a minimum contract size.

? Whether block bidding should be permitted.

? What measures should be adopted to guarantee the economic viability of bids. This question is designed to prevent organisations making 'suicide bids' that they would in reality not be able to deliver, and which could risk leaving clients without access to a lawyer.

? Whether there should be PCT for very high-cost criminal cases on an individual case-by-case basis.

? Whether top-up fees should be permitted, to enable clients to pay for a service over and above that which is covered by basic legal aid.

The consultation will be run until 10 May and will inform the Society's response to the government's accelerated consultation.

Chancery Lane described PCT as 'potentially catastrophic' and instead offers reforms to criminal legal aid that it suggests will make the process more cost-effective and present less risk to the system.

Commenting on the government's 'hugely disruptive proposals' Law Society president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff (pictured) said: 'The level of uncertainty over work volumes, possible systemic changes and required investment to meet government IT requirements are critical issues for firms.

'The shortened timetable for consultation and implementation may require substantial restructuring of the market before the autumn, which is not plausible.'

She added: 'In several previous attempts the government has been unable to come up with a workable model for price tendering, and we do not see how they will be able to address the fundamental difficulties this time round.'

A law Society survey in March revealed that nearly 90% of solicitors are opposed to PCT for criminal defence work.

Read the consultation.

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