LSC urged to embrace landmark Legal Aid ruling

Thames Valley solicitors, Dexter Montague & Partners celebrated success at the Court of Appeal today in their claim brought jointly with the Law Society against the Legal Services Commission’s new Legal Aid supplier contract.

Welcoming the appeal result, DMP’s managing partner Bill Montague commented:
“As the Court of Appeal’s judgment sets out so clearly, the principal of transparency which underpins the public contract regulations has profound implications for legal aid contracting.
It goes to the heart of the relationship between the LSC and its suppliers, a relationship that is currently at an all time low. The LSC could make a large stride towards regaining the confidence of solicitors by responding constructively to this landmark judgment.

Beyond the specific steps needed to bring the unified contract in line with the Court of Appeal’s decision, I would urge the LSC to take on board its wider implications by adopting an approach to contracting which gives legal aid suppliers the clarity and stability they need to maintain sustainable businesses. It’s no good paying lip service to the aim of a sustainable legal aid system if that aspiration is not embodied in the supplier contracting arrangements and the terms of the contract itself.”

Background Notes:

Dexter Montague and Partners (“DMP”) brought this successful claim under the Public Contract
Regulations 2006 alongside the Law Society’s related judicial review proceedings after refusing to sign the LSC’s ‘Unified Contract’ introduced on 1st April 2007.
Until then DMP, which is a broadly-based local solicitors’ practice, had been a key CLS supplier firm in the Reading area taking on about 1,000 civil and family legal aid cases each year.
They refused to sign the contract on the grounds that it contained unfair amendment and termination provisions which would have put the firm in an unsustainable position through:
(a) leaving the LSC free to amend contract payment and other terms at will while at the same time …
(b) imposing severe financial consequences of termination if the firm could then no longer afford to continue with CLS work.

The LSC had in the spring announced future plans for revised payment arrangements for civil & family work which involved significant cuts for many legal aid firms, especially in London and the south-east and including DMP. (Those plans were implemented in a modified form in October.)

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