1 March 2006 | Anusha Bradley
Law firms will have to compete for legal aid contracts under proposed reforms to curb the government's soaring legal bill.
Spending on legal aid has increased from £730 million in 1997 to £1.2 billion in 2005, according to the Department for Constitutional Affairs.
The report by Lord Carter, Procurement of criminal defence services: market-based reform, recommends fixed pricing be applied to all criminal legal aid work for police stations and magistrates' and crown courts. It also proposes suppliers are rewarded for efficiency and says flexibility in working with rural and minority communities is required.
Lord Carter said the current system of paying lawyers on the basis of hours worked provided little incentive for efficiency. Instead, firms would bid for one to two-year regional contracts.
Reform would occur over three years so suppliers can adjust. The changes are expected to lead to some of the 2,500 suppliers merging.