29 June 2011 | Adam
A lack of
transparency and competitive tendering has led to expenditure on barristers’
services spiralling out of control, according to a report by the Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI).
The CriminalJustice Inspection report, published yesterday, has called for
action to improve value for money for legal services purchased by the public
purse in Northern Ireland.
While the report
noted that the use of competitive tendering for solicitors’ services was on the
increase, it found a distinct lack of a robust and competitive procurement process
when it came to barristers.
In 2010, the
Northern Ireland government spent £2.34 million on the direct procurement of
barristers and solicitors for legal casework. The report found that no
competitive tendering was in place and barristers were selected from a panel of
providers that did not take account of price variety. It also found that private
sector solicitors rather than public sector procurement staff usually selected
barristers for publicly funded cases.
Chief inspector of
Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, Dr Michael Maguire, said:
“The purchasing of legal services lacks
the discipline used and expected for other professional services. Many justice
organisations were unaware of the actual costs until completion of the work and
this can exceed the original estimates. This practice is generally considered
unacceptable in other commercial environments, where the supplier of a service
would be expected to provide an estimate of the costs of service provision and
to justify and explain variations from these estimates.”
The report said the Department of
Justice should ‘align itself’ with the government’s Central Procurement
Directorate (CPD) over the purchase of these services and should take advice from the CPD and Department of Finance
and Personnel. It also recommended the cost of legal services be determined at the start of an
assignment and criminal justice organisations collectively review the use of
legal services to include benchmarking.