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Criminal Legal Aid

Volume 508: debated on Monday 22 March 2010

The Ministry of Justice is publishing today outline proposals for restructuring of the delivery of publicly funded criminal defence services. This follows the announcement in December 2009 that the Ministry would work closely with the Legal Services Commission (LSC), the Law Society and individual practitioners to develop such proposals by the end of March 2010, and that these would replace the LSC’s planned pilots for best value tendering. Even with the necessary savings and reforms, our system of legal aid—civil and criminal—will still be far and away the best funded in the world.

The Government strongly believe that there must be a significant restructuring of the provision of criminal defence services in order to achieve greater value for money from legal aid, while still ensuring fair access to justice and enabling legal aid providers to remain profitable and sustainable. The Ministry of Justice policy statement proposes that this would be achieved by creating a more consolidated market, in which larger contracts are let to a smaller number of more efficient providers, enabling them to take advantage of economies of scale.

Other features of the proposals include:

contracts tendered across a whole criminal justice system area, and for the full range of services including higher value Crown court work;

opportunities for a range of providers to win contracts, including barristers chambers;

retaining the ability for individuals to choose a solicitor from among those firms that hold contracts; and

fostering innovation and efficiency on the part of providers by minimising contractual burdens, but balanced with strong financial audit controls.

The Ministry of Justice intends to undertake a consultation later this year on more detailed proposals, including a tendering model capable of delivering this restructured market. The Government will wish to consider the views expressed by respondents, including on any alternative options that would ensure the sustainability of criminal legal aid at reduced overall expenditure, before making final decisions.

Copies of the policy statement, “Restructuring the delivery of criminal defence services”, will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The document will also be available from the publications section of the Ministry of Justice website at: