Crime Contracts – What now?
LAA Crime Own Client and Duty Solicitors Contracts
As you will doubtless be fully aware, the MoJ has finally released its statement on the future of crime contracting with both the Own Client Contracts and Duty Contracts being cancelled.
Having reviewed the Minister’s Statement and the LAA’s subsequent message sent to bidders on 28 January 2016 in relation to their next steps, here is a summary of the current, confirmed, position. Please note that the information provided by the LAA is typically limited and so this guidance will likely need to be updated over the coming days. As more information is divulged and questions answered, we will update this section of our news page.
Firstly, it was announced that, from 1 April 2016 until 1 April 2017, there will be a suspension of the litigator fee cut that was implemented in July 2015.
The new fee scheme, previously planned for April 2016, will no longer be implemented.
Duty Contract Awards
All offers of a duty contract have been revoked with immediate effect.
If you have been adversely affected by this decision – for instance, if you have incurred unnecessary costs which cannot be recouped – then see here for further information.
Own Client Contract – existing providers
All offers of an Own Client Contract are revoked.
Long-standing crime providers (i.e. those that have been operating a 2010 Standard Contract) are currently continuing to provide crime services pursuant to that 2010 Standard Contract. The 2010 Standard Contract was formally extended until 31 March 2016 and, doubtless, the LAA will seek to extend this further until it can commence a tendering process to award new crime contracts.
We appreciate that there are some existing providers that did not verify their offer of an Own Client Contract in December 2015. Some are still working towards achieving Lexcel or being re-accredited against the SQM, for instance. We would simply advise those providers to continue to ensure that you meet the LAA’s previously confirmed ‘minimum requirements’ for the Own Client Contract as they are very unlikely to change. You should continue to work towards gaining your re-accreditation and having a supervisor that meets the supervisor standard (that is, is able to fully complete the supervisor form applicable for the Own Client Contract). If you take your foot of the pedal now and suspend all preparations, be prepared for this to become an issue later on. It would be very unlikely for the LAA not to insist on the same minimum requirements in any future contract.
Furthermore, we had come across some circumstances recently whereby the LAA has sought to terminate an existing crime provider’s 2010 Standard Contract by reason of their not having ‘maintained a quality standard’. We would debate the legality of such action but this is still something the LAA could attempt to do and so you must achieve re-accreditation against the SQM (as audited by the SQM Delivery Partnership) or accreditation against Lexcel as soon as possible.
There is a deadline of 12 February 2016 for submitting CRM12 forms for any new or moving duty solicitors for duty slots from April 2016 to September 2016. If your duty solicitors are unchanged then you do not need to submit the forms.
There doesn’t appear to be requirement for existing crime firms to provide any additional verification. The LAA has said to existing 2010 Standard Contract providers that “If you held a 2010 Contract and accepted the offer of an extension to cover the period between 11 January and 31 March 2016 made in November 2015 then you need take no further action. We will write to you in due course to give notice of the extension to this contract and will issue an amended schedule by the end of February.”
Own Client Contract – new providers who were awarded a Contingency Contract in January 2016
There are of course many providers who are new to crime provision.
From 11 January 2016, subject to the organisations having submitted their verification documentation by 8 December 2015, the LAA permitted new providers to start providing crime services pursuant to contingency arrangements. These contingency contracts were not based upon the Own Client Contract. They were made expressly subject to the 2010 Standard Contract and these providers agreed to be bound by the terms of that Contract. These contingency arrangements are not affected by the revocation of the Own Client Contract and the LAA has confirmed that these providers can simply continue to provide services pursuant to these contingency arrangements.
The LAA has started sending out notifications to providers operating under the contingency extension to the 2010 Contract inviting them to undertake duty work post April 2016. To be included on duty rotas, new providers have been requested to complete a Duty Information Form by 23.59 on 12 February 2016 . They will also have to submit CRM12s for each duty solicitor they employ by that date.
There shouldn’t be any additional verification to be provided as all matters should have been dealt with. If there is anything outstanding, this needs to be submitted via the Bravo site. The LAA has said this should also be sent by the 12 February 2016 deadline.
Own Client Contract – new providers that do not currently hold an extended/contingency 2010 Standard Contract
There are a number of bidding organisations who are new to crime legal aid but who were not able to verify their awards by the 8 December deadline. They had previously been working to a start date of 1 April 2016 and this still stands. The LAA has said in its guidance dated 28 January 2016 that “…all successful bidders [of an Own Client Contract] (including organisations that have not previously held crime contracts but meet our minimum requirements) will have the opportunity to deliver criminal legal aid services under contingency arrangements.”
The LAA updated these firms on 2 February 2016 to advise that if they wish to undertake criminal work from 1 April 2016 pending replacement contracts coming into force they must complete the verification process to demonstrate you meet the LAA’s minimum criteria by the following dates:
– In order to undertake own client work, you must complete the verification process by 23.59 on 29 February 2016.
– If firms wish to go on to a duty scheme from April they must submit the own client verification information by 23.59 on 12 February and also submit a completed Duty Information Form and the CRM12 form to Duty2016applications@legalaid.gsi.gov.uk.
Prison Law only and Appeals & Review Work only Contracts
The LAA has not formally confirmed this in their current guidance but, as the 2010 Standard Contracts are continuing, it logically must follow that these contract offers (based upon the Own Client Contract Terms) are also revoked.
We know that there will be some firms who bid for a Prison Law and/or Appeals & Reviews Work only Contract. Some of these bidders who were in a position to verify their offers by December 2015, were offered and are now operating a contingency contract in these areas. As these contingency offers were based on the 2010 Standard Contract, providers will be able to continue with them for the foreseeable future – certainly until the new contracting regime commences.