The Ministry of Justice has responded quickly to last week's High Court's ruling that it acted unlawfully when introducing criminal legal aid reforms.
Just five days after the court found that the ministry had been 'unfair' in failing to disclose the findings of two key reports, the ministry today announced a consultation on the findings.
Today's announcement made no mention of the court's decision, made in response to a judicial review sought by two groups representing criminal solicitors and partly funded by the Law Society. It states that the ministry received advice from Otterburn Legal Consulting Ltd and KPMG LLP in February 2014 and concluded that there should be 525 duty legal aid provider contracts, down from 1,600 today. 'We are now consulting on the reports undertaken by Otterburn and KPMG… and the assumptions used in the course of the preparation of the KPMG financial modelling with a view to deciding the number of duty provider contracts to offer.'
It promises that 'ministers will consider the number of duty provider contracts that will be offered in the forthcoming tender for criminal legal aid defence services in light of the evidence gathered in this consultation'.
The consultation,Transforming Legal Aid: crime duty contracts, closes on 15 October. A formal tender process for the 2015 duty contracts is due to begin the same month.
Richard Miller, Law Society head of legal aid, said: 'This consultation gives solicitors in each procurement area the opportunity to spell out to ministers the reality on the ground of what the Otterburn and KPMG reports reveal. We are disappointed that the consultation is so short, but we encourage all our members to respond in detail.'
Nicola Hill, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association - one of the claimants in the judicial review - said: 'It seems a little odd and surprising that within this new mini-consultation, there's not a whiff or a word of last week's shaming judicial review. The turnaround on this re-consultation is tight by any stretch. We don't want to be too cynical but we really hope it's not a tokenistic, paper exercise. Rather a chance for a genuine re-think where the future of high standard legal representation comes before ideology'.