The legal aid bill returns to the Lords tomorrow as the final stages of the Parliamentary process draw near. We are now in “ping pong” where the Lords and Commons try to agree a final version of the bill.
Last week, the Commons overturned all the Lords amendments, although ministers did make two more concessions, one on the definition of domestic violence and a rather less clear or useful one on welfare benefits appeals.
Now the Commons version of the bill goes back to the Lords; unless the Lords reject the removal of their amendments tomorrow it will become law.
Whatever happens tomorrow, within days or at most a week or two, the bill becomes law. Then starts the process of bringing it into force.
There will need to be detailed regulations issued, a new version of the Funding Code drafted, and new contract terms written. The LSC has already consulted with representative bodies on the Standard Terms of a new contract, but with the final terms of the bill still uncertain it can not consult on the Specification, either with representative bodies or more widely.
At the recent Provider Reference Groups, very little detail beyond what was in the recent headline document was given. It seems the plan is still to open a tender process in May, announce the results by the end of the year and start new contracts in April 2013. However, according to Hugh Barrett, who was questioned on this at the London PRG at the end of March, even such fundametal issues as the allocation mechanism for matter starts are not yet resolved.............."