Following complaints from the legal profession about unsuccessful legal aid contract bids, the Legal Services Commission has announced it will open a further tender for licence-only family and family and housing work.
The LSC tendered for family and family and housing contracts to cover the time between the end of the extended Unified Contract and the new contracts which will be introduced as a consequence of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, currently being debated in Parliament.
The LSC claimed that a number of applicants had made clerical mistakes in their bid forms which resulted in qualified organisations being unsuccessful in their bids.
After the Law Society, the Legal Aid Practitioners' Group and Resolution threatened legal action, the LSC agreed that they will open a further tender for licence-only family and family and housing work; with contracts awarded through that tender to take effect from 1 April 2012.
A joint statement issued by the LSC, Resolution, the Law Society and the LAPG stated: "Given the high success rate in the recent family tender exercise, sufficient matter starts have already been awarded but a license only contract will ensure that those providers who would otherwise be unable to undertake new publicly funded family work can continue to do so.
"Those that were successful in the recent family tender exercise need not apply, only those who were previously unsuccessful or who seek a licence-only Family contract. It should be emphasised to all of those planning to apply that there will be no further opportunities to obtain a legal aid contract until tenders for the reduced scope of legal aid open in the summer for commencement in April 2013."
The news comes as a relief for the National Youth Advocacy Service who would have been unable to continue providing representation for children in family courts from 1 February 2012. NYAS Chief Executive Christine Renouf acknowledged the support received from the legal profession, many of whom lobbied on NYAS behalf.
"The support for NYAS from the outset was overwhelming and provided great confidence and reassurance to the legal team in the light of the serious position for the charity. The decision is an acknowledgement of the importance of the work NYAS undertakes in the family courts through a dedicated and committed team. We are delighted to have the opportunity be able to continue with our work."