Three firms have been awarded the contracts to run the expanded Criminal Defence Service Direct (CDS Direct), the Legal Services Commission (LSC) has announced.

Following a competitive tender, the service will be provided by Nottingham-based Johnson Partnership, O?Garra?s in Leeds and Bostalls, a police station representative agency in London.

From 1 October, all calls for legal aid assistance at police stations will be routed through a single number to the Defence Solicitor Call Centre (DSCC). From 31 October, in the Greater Manchester, West Midlands and West Yorkshire criminal justice areas, the DSCC will forward all cases ? for both duty solicitor and, controversially, own client work ? to CDS Direct where someone is accused of a less serious offence.

CDS Direct has been operating nationally for duty solicitor work since October 2005 and the LSC intends it to become the sole service provider for all less serious offences where clients receive telephone advice at police stations. It estimates the takeover of own client work nationally by CDS Direct will save ?4 million a year.

John Sirodcar, head of direct services at the LSC, said: ?The LSC will monitor the service and work in partnership with the firms to refine it, before rolling CDS Direct out to replace own client telephone work across England and Wales in early 2008.?

The Law Society said the scheme would create added delay and complexity, and discourage clients from seeking legal advice.

Catherine Baksi

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