The Legal Services Commission has finally published the long-awaited independent on the The Public Defender Service (PDS), at the same time  claiming that it provides a better quality of service than private practice .

Their press release states: -

"In addition the research states that providing criminal advice services through an organisation directly employed by the state has no negative impact on the independence of the advice and representation provided to clients 

The research was carried out by a team headed by Professors Lee Bridges of the University of Warwick and Avrom Sherr of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in London.  It was based on an analysis of the PDS during its first three years of operation, from 2001 to 2004.  It showed that during this start-up period, when the PDS was building up its caseload, it had higher costs than other criminal defence providers in the same areas.

The PDS annual report 2005/06 also published today shows that the service has become more efficient since the research was carried out. It also shows the most successful PDS offices are in areas such as Cheltenham with limited supply and can add value by filling gaps in the market.

Gaynor Ogden, Head of Employed Services at the Legal Services said: ?I welcome the findings of the research which shows that Public Defender Service has become an example of a good quality criminal defence supplier and has a lot to offer the Legal Services Commission as a test bed of service delivery and a role in informing policy.

The research report is based on data collected early in the life of the PDS and we have come a long way since then in terms of growth, quality and cost.  We have introduced a new management structure which has bought focus to performance and we have introduced innovative methods of delivery including developing our in-house higher court advocates.

We now have an opportunity to make firm plans about the future of the PDS and how we can best offer quality, value-for-money services to clients. We expect to make an announcement about the future shape of the PDS soon.?

Legal Aid Minister, Vera Baird added: This research shows very clearly that the PDS is independent and gives robust advice: public defenders advise people not to speak in police station interviews more frequently than private solicitors; and more PDS defendants than private solicitor defendants enter early guilty pleas, yet the PDS has an equivalent client conviction rate, thus sparing their victims further trauma. Clearly the PDS has a future".

Practitioner Groups around the country are likely to challenge the LSC?s interpretation, highlighting the fact that the evidence shows that the Birmingham and Liverpool PDS Offices performed worse in quality terms than the average of all private practice firms in their region, while the other offices performed only a little better than average. These offices had substantially lower caseloads than private practice firms. The average of chargeable hours per fee earner was around 800, compared with Lord Carter?s requirement of 1,400 hours.  They also received substantially more public money per case.  The research shows that the PDS cost around half as much again as private practice, and on some measures more than twice as much. 

The fact that, despite the substantial funding, the PDS were still unable to keep up with the best private practice firms on quality begs the question "What will happen to that quality when they are under equal pressure in terms of time and money??

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