Post by Colin Henderson on Dec 15, 2010 10:58:57 GMT
The Solicitor's Journal report on this case is as follows:
"A dozen legal aid firms that challenged the new contracts in public law and high-security mental health have failed to overturn the awards but forced the LSC to make improvements.
However, Mr Justice Cranston criticised the LSC’s attempts to check quality standards and ordered that firms which failed to meet its supervision standards should lose their contracts.
He warned the LSC that forcing mental health patients at high-security hospitals to switch solicitor as a result of the tender process might have an “adverse impact on those already vulnerable”.
Under section 49A of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, Cranston J said the LSC must have “due regard” to whether they needed to take steps to soften the blow.
Public Interest Lawyers and RMNJ were claimants in the judicial review. They were backed by ten other specialist firms, including Bindmans, which represented them.
Giving judgment in Public Interest Lawyers and RMNJ v LSC  EWHC 3277 (Admin), Mr Justice Cranston said the judicial review challenged last month’s award of contracts for public law and mental health contracts for work at the high-security hospitals of Ashworth, Broadmoor and Rampton.
Cranston J said that in London demand for public law contracts outstripped supply by six to one. He said this meant that firms received no more than 15 matter starts each.
Pierce Glynn, one of the firms that supported the judicial review, had 145 new matter starts in 2009/10 and bid for 300.
Outside London, Public Interest Lawyers completed 83 new matter starts last year, bid for 120 and received 25.
Despite his criticisms, Cranston J said there was “no legal flaw” in the way the LSC conducted the award of public law contracts, or any breach of duty under section 4 of the Access to Justice Act 1999.
Saimo Chahal, partner at Bindmans, acted for the claimants. She said the tender process had disadvantaged firms which could meet the supervision requirements.
If firms which could not meet them were deprived of their contracts, she said that more matter starts might be available for those who could.
Chahal added that the High Court had granted the claimants a protective costs order – the first one obtained by law firms in this situation.
A spokesman for the LSC said the challenges had failed to overturn any of its tender decisions.
“We are pleased that the uncertainty caused by this litigation has ended,” the spokesman said.
“However, we accept the court’s criticism of the verification process for our supervisor standards in public law and mental health. We are currently reviewing what additional verification needs to be undertaken as a result and will publish details on our website in due course.”
I have skimmed the judgement and it certainly doesn't stop the tender but there is still a lot of criticism of the LSC by the judge. The LSC's protrayal of this as a victory is pretty hollow once you've read it.