The amount of money wasted on the government’s controversial and ultimately abandoned attempts to introduce legal aid contract reforms has been revealed. In total, the government wasted more than £411,000 on the endeavour.
The proposed measures, which would have introduced two-tier contracts and competitive tendering to the criminal legal aid system, where originally announced by Gove’s predecessor as Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. Grayling, who has been described as one of the most controversial and unpopular Justice Secretaries of recent times, introduced a number of poorly-received measures which have later been scrapped by his successor. The abandonment of the legal aid contract reforms represented the fifth time that Gove had gone back on one of Grayling’s plans.
Under the scheme, 527 duty contracts were to be made available for firms who wished to provide criminal legal aid services, and firms across the country would have been required to bid competitively for the right to hold one of these contracts. Those that lost out could have faced a significant drop in incoming workload and income.
Whilst a number of recent reforms, particularly in relation to legal aid, have proved unpopular, the response to the proposed contracting system from the legal sector was particularly strong. Some top lawyers said that criminal law was set to become a “futureless profession” under the new regime, there were multiple claims of bad practice, and a number of formal legal challenges were launched against the government in an attempt to stop the reforms. In January, 14 months into the procurement process for the new contracts, Gove announced that the new system would not be put into operation after all. At the time of this announcement, the government was fighting a judicial challenge over the changes from the Fair Crime Contracts Alliance, as well as roughly 100 separate claims from law firms across the country.
Some of the costs associated with the attempt to bring about these reforms have been revealed under the Freedom of Information Act, and total more than £411,000. This includes £271,574 spend on agency staff in association with the reforms, £125,933 on legal support regarding the procurement process, and £13,565 in external legal assistance with the drafting of the contracts. This makes for a total cost of £411,072.
This figure does not include the amount spent on defending the proposals from the wave of legal challenges that were made. This information was included in the Freedom of Information Request made by the press to the government, but the Ministry of Justice said that, while it does have the information, “we believe that releasing the information would be likely to prejudice both the administration of justice as well as the department’s commercial interests.”