The Law Society last week published alternative proposals to the government's Transforming Legal Aid plan, saying they would retain client choice, provide certainty and facilitate greater market efficiency.
On contracting, the Society proposes:
Rolling three-year contracts, awarded subject to an increasingly rigorous quality and capacity framework (QCF). Contracts will be annually renewed so firms will always have two full years remaining.
Contracts awarded on the basis of the existing 245 police station procurement areas.
The QCF to be set through negotiation between the Law Society and the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) and tightened annually to drive market consolidation.
In the first year, firms must have at least two Criminal Litigation Accreditation Scheme-accredited staff and two duty solicitors. These will rise to three in the second year, to drive consolidation.
In the second year, firms will have to be registered with the SRA to take on trainees or have an agreement with another firm to provide a criminal law seat for a trainee.
Special measures could apply to rural areas, with fees set to take into account travel times. On the duty solicitor scheme, the Society proposes:
An overhaul of the 'inefficient' current scheme, which 'produces perverse incentives'. The system of allocating slots based on the number of duty solicitors in a firm will be replaced with a scheme based on the firm's previous year's volume of work.
An automated system directing clients to a firm on the panel.
A freeze on the practice of hiring 'ghosts' and a process of 'purging' to remove them from the system.
The Society also says that:
The LAA must make improvements to payments on account.
The MoJ should urge HMRC to amend reporting requirements for firms doing publicly funded work and return to a cash basis for accounting, so that they are not taxed on work in progress, but only work that they have been paid for.