Post by Colin Henderson on Nov 5, 2010 12:24:17 GMT
And they appear to be linking-up their fight for survival with the parallel campaign by Greater Manchester Immigration Advice Unit to reverse their cut in work by 70% from this month. However, there does not appear to be a legal challenge from them.
“What is the Point of Giving a Point for Simply Applying….?”
That was the question asked by Mr Justice Keith in the judicial review permission hearing at the Civil Justice Centre in Manchester on 8th November 2010 between South Manchester Law Centre and the Legal Services Commission. The Law Centre claimed that the LSC had acted unfairly in cutting their legal aid contract for immigration by 75% and in particular claimed that the LSC had used an arbitrary and irrational set of selection criteria with a disproportionate “winner takes all” points system to come to its decision.
Mr Justice Keith granted permission to the Law Centre very much along the lines that the Law Society had won their parallel case against the LSC involving family legal aid contracts. He noted that the tender process for the immigration contract was much the same as the family contract described in the Law Society case (Law Society v LSC  EWHC 2550 (Admin)). In immigration, 5 marks were awarded for acquisition of “level 3” accreditation while 1 mark was awarded if at the time of the bid an application for accreditation had been acknowledged by the Law Society. Mr Justice Keith noted that, as with the family judgment, it turned out that accreditation criteria were frequently decisive – the lack of accredited case workers made the difference between attaining and not attaining the contract, although a substantial number of caseworkers could have applied if they had realised the importance. Caseworkers could not, however, have become accredited in the short time between the notification of the criteria (with the tender documentation) and the close of bidding (2 months later).
The Law Centre did not submit a “speculative” application just to gain a point. They gained maximum points for all other features but none for “level 3”; they lost because another organisation scored one more point, having made an application for the level 3. The outcome was that this other organisation, having overbid by apparently more than 100%, received over 4/5 of the matter starts for Greater Manchester and the Law Centre and 7 other local providers across the county (who all tied with one point fewer) received less than 1/5 between them.
In any competitive tender there are winners and losers, but on the face of it, the difference between the other organisation and Law Centre tender was seen by Mr Justice Keith to be disproportionate in its impact. He noted that in the family judgment it had been held that the LSC had not made it sufficiently clear what was required of a tenderer and by the time it had become clear, it was too late. He held that the same applied here. The significance of the need to gain maximum marks could not have been appreciated. The LSC had not made clear that maximum points required the employment of a caseworker accredited to level 3; before the tender, organisations would not have thought themselves worse off with level 2 caseworkers. By the time it had become clear what was needed, it was too late for the Law Centre to get anyone accredited at level 3.
Further, Mr Justice Keith held that accreditation was designed to show expertise. The mere making of an application for level 3 did not demonstrate expertise. It was understandable why the LSC thought that level 3 accreditation was appropriate – but one point for an application was another matter. It did not recognise expertise unless more was built into it. One mark for an application was irrational.
In response to the LSC’s submission that the claim had not been made in time, or promptly, Mr Justice Keith again followed the family judgment. The unexpected impact locally of the decision (which could not have been known until after the results were announced by the LSC) and the nature of the challenge (public interest, concerned with access to justice) applied here.
The full judicial review hearing is anticipated to take place in 31 days from the grant of permission.
Before, during and after the hearing, the LSC refused to consider any settlement outside the court proceedings. The LSC said it was not possible to redistribute matter starts from currently successful bidders, many of whom as in this case had substantially overbid. However the LSC is clearly willing to spend thousands of pounds of public money on pointless litigation when this could have been used to support the very front line services that claimants have been providing. How many more cases will the LSC have to lose before they accept this?
John Nicholson, Kenworthy's Chambers Counsel for SMLC
Post by Richard Wilkinson on Nov 10, 2010 9:13:49 GMT
LSC facing court challenge over immigration contractsTuesday 09 November 2010 by Catherine Baksi
The future of the Legal Service Commission’s new immigration and asylum contract could be in doubt after the High Court gave South Manchester Law Centre (SMLC) permission to challenge the outcome of the tender process.
The law centre challenged the lawfulness of the tender process in relation to the caseworker accreditation criteria and the notice given to applicant firms of the requirement for caseworkers to be accredited.
Lord Justice Keith yesterday ruled that the two elements were potentially unlawful and listed the case for a full judicial review hearing.
The outcome of the immigration and asylum procurement process in Greater Manchester resulted in 80% of the case allocation being given to one organisation, while other providers, South Manchester Law Centre included, received contracts that are too small to be financially viable.
A spokesperson for SMLC said: ‘We are delighted with this result especially given that the LSC, at public expense, sent one of the country’s leading QCs from London to argue their case. For a small community-based organisation such as ours to win in the High Court is a substantial achievement.’
The case is expected to be listed in the first week of December. The new immigration and asylum contracts are due to begin next Monday.
Post by Richard Wilkinson on Nov 16, 2010 10:45:52 GMT
From parliament yestrerday:
"Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton, Labour)
Taking into account the Lord Chancellor's wish, stated this afternoon, to encourage more efficient resolution of contested cases, will he press the Legal Services Commission to negotiate a settlement with South Manchester law centre ahead of the scheduled judicial review next month, given that the LSC lost a judicial review to the Law Society at immense public expense on the same kinds of points? It is essential, both to my constituents and more widely, that the South Manchester law centre continues to be able to help people on low means. Link to thisHansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 15 November 2010, c669)
Kenneth Clarke (Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State, Justice; Rushcliffe, Conservative)
I will inquire into the case that concerns the right hon. Gentleman, but I must point out that the Legal Services Commission is currently a totally independent body and is not subject to ministerial control. We propose to change its status and make it an agency, which would make it more directly accountable and would enable us to exercise more control over efficiency, but we would still proceed on the basis of having no ministerial involvement in individual applications for legal aid, as it would be quite wrong to seem to politicise individual cases. Nevertheless, I hope that the dispute is resolved rapidly and I shall make inquiries as to whether the speeding up of a resolution can be facilitated."