The Legal Services Commission (LSC) today announced it would postpone the tender for the new civil legal aid contracts until late 2009 or early 2010, in order to allow more time to finalise arrangements.
The new 3 year civil legal aid contracts will now commence in October 2010. This will mean that current contracts will be extended for 6 months.
Earlier this month the LSC's proposals to cut the family legal aid budget were severely criticised in a damning report from the Justice Select Committee. The report concluded that 'proposals for reform were based on incomplete data, [and] a superficial understanding of the supply of legal services in this area'.
By postponing the bid rounds, the LSC will be able to review the final policy on harmonising the fees paid to family solicitors and barristers.
Commenting on today's announcement, Richard Miller, Law Society Head of legal aid said: "While it is disappointing for those family practitioners who were anxious to secure harmonised advocacy rates at the earliest possible opportunity, it has become increasingly clear that the LSC was unable to finish redrafting the contracts, resolve the issue of selection criteria for allocating contracts, or to finalise the tendering requirements in the time available.
"It is vital that the LSC does not now lose momentum, but still works to publish final information at the earliest possible date."
This timetable change will mean that there will not be an overlap between tender activity for civil and crime legal aid contracts, alleviating pressure that may be felt by practices that would like to bid for both.
Commenting on the postponement, Carolyn Regan, Chief Executive of the Legal Services Commission, said: "We have listened to recent comments made by providers and their representative bodies and, in view of the importance of securing more accessible and integrated client services in the future, we feel that it is only prudent to afford more time to providers to prepare properly for this tender."