Moving to a market-based approach to legal aid based on quality and value for money for the taxpayer is at the heart of proposals to reform the system of legal aid procurement published today by Lord Carter.
Lord Carter?s final report makes 62 recommendations and comes after 12 months of detailed analysis of the existing legal aid system. The review has undertaken extensive consultation with a wide range of representative groups, including the Law Society, the Bar Council, the judiciary and individual practitioners.
The fully-costed proposals should, subject to effective implementation, deliver efficiencies within three years across the criminal legal aid budget of ?100 million against spend in 2005?06. This will allow a greater proportion of the overall legal aid budget to go to civil and family work.
Among the key recommendations are:
- Best value tendering for legal aid contracts based on quality, capacity and price from 2009;
- New responsibilities for Law Society and Bar Council to enhance quality of legal aid supplier market;
- Fixed fees for solicitors carrying out legal aid work in police stations to encourage more efficient practices, including cutting costs related to waiting and travelling times;
- Revised graduated fees for Crown Court advocates and a new graduated fee scheme for Crown Court litigators to reward earlier preparation and resolution of cases;
- Tighter control of very high cost criminal legal aid cases;
- Standard fees for civil and family legal help, and new graduated fees for solicitors in private law family and child care proceedings.
The final report reflects representations made to Lord Carter by stakeholders in the period since the publication of his interim report in February. Among the changes are:
- The preservation of an element of choice on the part of clients;
- The possibility of longer contract periods for the best suppliers;
- A longer transition period prior to the introduction of best value tendering, and financial support to those firms seeking to restructure.
In presenting his report to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Carter of Coles said:
?Our system of legal aid is the envy of the world, and the dedication and commitment of many of those engaged in providing publicly-funded legal services is a tribute to the legal profession as a whole.
?Yet the steady increase in spending on legal aid in recent years is unsustainable. The overall budget has increased by ?500 million since 1997 alone to ?2 billion last year, and the steep rise in criminal legal aid is putting severe pressure on what is available to fund civil and family legal aid.
?Our primary objective over the last 12 months has therefore been to make the way government procures legal aid services more efficient while enhancing the quality of assistance provided by both barristers and solicitors. As a result, we have studied a wide range of options for reform.
?It is clear to us that the fairest and most sensible way forward is to move towards a market-based approach which rewards efficient firms providing a quality service at the best value to the taxpayer.
?We recognise however that to secure a thriving and sustainable supply base, change needs to implemented in a phased way over a three-year period. Many firms will benefit significantly from a system of best value tendering, yet it is sensible to make assistance available to those firms that will need to restructure to cope with such reform of the legal aid market.
?We are extremely grateful for the involvement and contribution made by the many groups and practitioners we have met over the last year, and we recommend that new ways are sought to enhance collaboration between the key groups and government.
?We hope that all those involved with the existing system of legal aid will seize this unique opportunity to put this vital public service on a long-term, sustainable footing for the future.?
Notes to Editors
- On July 5, 2005, Lord Falconer the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs asked Lord Carter of Coles to examine how to improve the arrangements for purchasing publicly funded legal services.
- A copy of the full report ?Legal Aid: A market-based approach to reform? can be found at the website www.legalaidprocurementreview.gov.uk. Along with further details of the review.