The Legal Services Commission faces the threat of litigation from legal aid firms refused new family law contracts.
Between 30 and 40 firms that made technical or clerical errors in the submission of their applications for contracts in the October 2011 bid round are taking advice on seeking a judicial review of the LSC’s decision not to grant them contracts or exercise discretion on their appeals.
Two of the firms concerned are Henry’s in Stockport and Hutton’s in Cardiff. Henry’s failed to get a contract because it incorrectly answered a question in the tender document about peer review – the most commonly made error.
Kieran Henry, director at Henry’s, which deals with 50-60 child care cases a month, told the Gazette that its child care department will have to close at the end of January if the LSC does not change its mind. ‘This will result in the redundancies of six solicitors and mean we’ll be unable to help families for whom we’ve acted for over 30 years,’ said Henry.
Hutton’s made a clerical error submitting electronic tender documentation, sending the information guidance notice instead of the tender information form itself.
Managing partner Clare Strowbridge said the missing details did not form part of the information assessed in the tender and was information that the LSC already held, such as the firm’s address and account number. She said: ‘The LSC’s response is not proportionate. Giving us a contract would cause no prejudice to the LSC or to other firms.’
She said the current situation leaves her firm with the choice of dealing only with private clients until the next contract round in 18 months, or closing down its family legal aid department.
An LSC spokesperson said: ‘We are still considering appeals, but before the tender process opened we highlighted the importance of applicants accurately completing their tenders, and the consequences if this was not done.’