Legal Aid

PDS 'vital to market'

PUBLISHED August 2, 2007

The Public Defender Service (PDS) will have a vital role to play in providing support during the market instability predicted as a result of the government?s move toward fixed fees and competitive tendering in criminal legal aid, research by leading legal academics has concluded.

A report into the PDS ? published by a research team led by Professor Lee Bridges of the University of Warwick ? claimed it had delivered high-quality criminal defence to an equal or higher standard than the best private criminal defence firms, and had established a reputation among clients and criminal justice professionals for robust and independent work, despite initial problems and high costs.

Professor Bridges said: ?Our report shows that despite early cost overruns, hurried implementation and poor initial planning, the PDS can be a vital safeguard in the new market-based system of criminal legal aid, providing protection against the market concentration and instability that may result from a system of competitive tendering for defence services.?

But Richard Miller, director of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, said the PDS had struggled to deliver services as efficiently as private practice organisations, despite not having to pay many of the costs inherent in running a private business. He questioned whether the service would be able to deal with the widespread problems that were likely.

?Thus it is unsurprising that the prime role the researchers see for the PDS in future is as a back-up against the anticipated instability in the supply of defence services as a result of the proposed competitive tendering scheme,? he added.