Ministry of Justice
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Procurement of criminal legal aid in England and Wales

The Ministry of Justice and Legal Services Commission have today responded to the National Audit Office’s report into procurement of criminal legal aid in England and Wales.

Welcoming the report, Legal Aid Minister Willy Bach commented:

‘I would like to thank the NAO for the work that they have done and I and the LSC are keen to see the majority of their recommendations implemented as soon as possible.

‘I am concerned about the weaknesses previously identified by the NAO in the LSC’s control systems that have led to a substantial number of overpayments. I have therefore asked the Commission to put in place an action plan to recover these amounts and to impose tighter controls to ensure claims are more effectively scrutinised to prevent repetition.

‘On a more positive note I am confident that the reforms which the LSC started to introduce in 2006, such as the introduction of magistrates’ courts means assessment and police station fixed fees, have already strengthened the LSC’s controls over criminal legal aid funding. The NAO’s work will help the LSC to make further improvements.

‘In addition to the work already in hand, some weeks ago I asked Sir Ian Magee to review the existing delivery and governance arrangements of the legal aid system. Sir Ian is due to report back in January.’

Carolyn Regan, Legal Services Commission Chief Executive, added:

‘I am grateful to the NAO for their report into the procurement of criminal legal aid in England and Wales. Work is already underway to implement their proposals. I look forward to discussing this work in more detail with the Committee of Public Accounts next month.’

While the NAO report expresses some concern about whether the commission makes the best possible use of its information about its suppliers, one of the NAO’s recommendations endorses the commission’s plan to pilot Best Value Tendering.

The LSC will evaluate the impact of price competition in two pilot areas before determining whether to introduce Best Value Tendering in other areas of the country from 2013. This approach will give assurance that value for money is being obtained as well as producing a more efficient and sustainable criminal defence service.

Notes to editors

Best Value Tendering will be piloted in Greater Manchester and Avon and Somerset which will begin in July 2010. Any such wider roll-out would not begin before 2013.

Media information

Daniel Kellingley, Legal Services Commission: 020 7783 7220
Jo Oakes, Ministry of Justice: 020 3334 3536

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