All nine Public Defender Service (PDS) offices have achieved the highest ?category one? status in their costs compliance, the service?s annual report revealed last week.
The PDS has now completed its four-year pilot stage and client satisfaction rose to almost 100% under the peer review process, it said. Other quality standards also came out well. The offices came in just under their ?4.1 million budget.
Gaynor Ogden, the Legal Services Commission?s head of employed services, said: ?From a standing start four years ago we have built up a successful business in which quality of service and client focus are key. We have learned much along the way, and are constantly adapting in order to improve.?
However, Rodney Warren, director of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, said that with a full evaluation of the PDS due later this year, the results did not tell the whole story.
?What matters is not an annual report with an element of self-congratulation,? he argued. ?We need to see the evaluation of the research into the pilot ? and it is crucial that we should see that in the general context of the provision of legal aid, especially in relation to the Carter review.?
Richard Miller, director of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, argued that the claim that the PDS was achieving a ?consistently high quality of services? was let down by the finding that none of the offices achieved ?excellent? ratings in the peer review process. Eight managed ?competence plus? and the other the threshold ?competence? level, although that is being appealed.
Mr Miller added: ?The PDS service has an average caseload of 105 cases per lawyer per year. The average cost per case, excluding set-up costs, is ?889, compared with an average of ?795 per act of assistance for private practice ? and this average for private practice includes all the very high-cost cases.?
Law Society President Kevin Martin said: ?We are disappointed that the PDS research project on the overall costs of the service has still not been published. Without this full and independent assessment, it is difficult to establish whether the service is delivering cost-effective and good-quality advice.
?It is necessary to deal with the perception that the cost per case of the PDS is significantly more than the cost of a legal aid solicitor providing the same service.?