Legal aid buying ‘lax’, say MPs

3 February 2010

3 February 2010 | Jake Kanter

The procurement of legal aid by the Legal Services Commission (LSC) has been branded “far from competent” by a group of MPs.

A report published yesterday by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said financial controls and management information at the commission were lax.

It said the LSC’s recently shelved a “best-value tendering” system for legal aid services – which would have judged lawyers on quality, price and the capacity to deliver sufficient quantity of service - was “hamstrung” by a lack of understanding of the market.

The LSC, an agency of the UK Ministry of Justice that spends around £2 billion a year on legal aid, was unable to account for the significant variation in profits reported by solicitors for criminal legal aid work.

The PAC added that the commission lacked clear strategic direction, which was demonstrated by its poor management of changes to legal aid procurement and best-value tendering outlined in the Carter review.

It said the agency should gather better information on legal aid to improve value for money and service levels.

PAC chairman Edward Leigh added: “The commission’s lack of grip of the basics and lack of a clear strategic direction were compounded by a muddled relationship with its sponsoring department, the Ministry of Justice. Both commission and department must now adopt a more coherent approach to introducing reforms to the legal services market.”

An LSC spokesman said the organisation would submit a formal response to the PAC report in "due course".

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