The Procurement of Legal Aid in England and Wales by the Legal Services Commission
HC 322, Ninth Report of Session 2009-10 – Report, Together with Formal Minutes, Oral and Written Evidence
- House of Commons – Committee of Public Accounts
- TSO (The Stationery Office)
The Legal Services Commission spends £2.1 billion a year on buying civil and criminal legal aid, mainly from solicitors and barristers, and a further £125 million on administration.
The Commission has successfully arrested the increase in legal aid spending in the last five years, but the Committee found it is an organisation with poor financial management and internal controls and deficient management information. These weaknesses resulted in the Commission having its annual accounts qualified for 2008-09 and an assessment that its procurement and administration of criminal legal aid posed risks to value for money.
In 'The Procurement of Legal Aid in England and Wales by the Legal Services Commission (HC 322)' the Committee reports confusion and uncertainty about the respective roles of the Commission and the Ministry of Justice. This has led to duplication of effort on some issues and a lack of clarity about who should be responsible for others.
The Commission is the sole buyer of legal aid and it is important that it knows it is paying the right price for this. But it does not know enough about the costs and profitability of firms to know if it has set its fees at an appropriate level or whether they give value for money.
The Commission has been responsible for implementing significant reforms to legal aid, which were recommended by Lord Carter of Coles in 2006. However, constant changes in staff at senior level and poor planning of the changes has meant that reforms have often been delayed, have not always kept to their timetable and have not been properly evaluated to assess their impact.
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