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Best Value Tendering

Brace yourselves because the topic today is a bit dull, but they're will be a reward for reading all the way to the end.

The Government is looking to introduce Best Value Tendering (BVT) as a new way of paying for criminal legal aid cases.  BVT is likely to mean the introduction of One Case One Fee (OCOF), but there's no reason that OCOF must follow BVT.  OCOF means that the solicitor is paid all the money and can chose how to run the case using it, so he might instruct Counsel or keep the work for his in-house advocates.  OCOF already exists in the magistrates court where fees are paid to solicitors who can chose to instruct Counsel.

At present solicitors receive one fee for handing a case, which is either a fixed fee in police stations and magistrates courts or it is a graduated fee, which is comprised of a basic fee and can go up if the case is particularly complex, this is measured by the number of pages of evidence served by the prosecutor or days that the trial takes.  Barristers are paid either an agreed fee in the magistrates by their instructing solicitor or they receive their own graduated fee in the Crown Court.

The proposal is to award BVT contracts based upon the lowest price.  So Smith & Jones Solicitors will bid to run cases for say £500 + VAT while Shotgun Bastard and Dribble might put in a bid of £400 per case.  The winner of this bid will be Shotgun Bastard and Dribble as the only criteria is cost to the government.

Recently, the government has run two bidding procedures to contract for criminal justice services.  The first was for firms to run the Defence Solicitor Call Centre.  This service assigns suspects in police custody to duty solicitors and, in a lot of cases, provides telephone advice to those suspects.  The DSCC staff can make a decision whether a suspect deserves a solicitor and, if they decide not, then the DSCC staff will provide telephone advice only and will not pass the suspect on to a qualified solicitor.  This went so well that a firm of unqualified 'lawyers' won the contract and promptly went bankrupt.

The second bidding process was for the provision of interpreters to assist defendants, victims and witnesses in courts.  That also went well with interpreters boycotting the contract winner - who turned out not to have anywhere near as many staff as they claimed.  There was chaos in courts for months afterwards.

All this gives me an idea - but don't tell anybody about this!  If BVT comes in, I'm going to bid for a contract.  I won't have any staff, but that doesn't matter because I'll rely on projections for staff recruitment rather than actual employed staff when I bid (I'll lie).  When I win the contract I will hire a small army of school leavers as "paralegals" to shuffle paper around the desks.  I'll hire some newly qualified solicitors and barristers who will all be going very cheap since nobody else will be in a position to employ them.  With those people in place I'll be in a position to run criminal defence cases for next to nothing, while enjoying huge profits generated from the fourth-rate service I'll be providing.

Best of all, if clients don't like my service it doesn't matter because they'll be nobody else in the area to represent them!

I promised you a reward for getting to the end... unfortunately for you I lied but I got you to read it, just like fibbing about staff will help me win that hugely profitable BVT contract.


  1. The chaos with court interpreters continues. It may have become slightly less dramatic than at the outset, when it was frankly outrageous, but it remains a significant day-to-day issue, disrupting many courts, and costing the public purse untold sums in wasted court time.

    It is rare that I find myself in such total agreement with a blawger, but it is hard to find fault with your analysis above in any way. This is a dramatic juncture not only for British lawyers, but for British justice too. I fear there will be many injustices before the tide begins to ebb. The chief bulwark will be the lay magistracy, because it alone is not beholden to the system, but sworn rather to uphold the rule of law, and is not worrying about either its own survival or its pension scheme. The best advocates recognise the attachment of the lay bench to acting without fear or favour; sadly such advocates are in a shrinking minority. Most seem to have committed themselves to a Faustian pact of pushing their clients to jury trial in the Crown Court on the flawed premise that their chances there will be better, irrespective of the interests of justice for their client.

  2. There is a more effective solution to problems such as a lack of facility for interpretation in court. That is to stop immigration of non-English speakers into the country, and to impose a strict language test on those who seek to immigrate from non-Anglophone territories. Of course, some interpretation facilities would still be needed, but it is unlikely that in those circumstances any break-down in services would be so critical to the proper functioning of the system. The lesson, surely, is that a cohesive society has to respect the foundational elements such as linguistic and cultural integrity.

    That is a solution beyond the scope of this blog, but it is worth mentioning that many of the pressure points that seem to afflict our public services nowadays have their route in bad policy decisions and executive or legislative inaction concerning border security and immigration. We should stop treating this country as a kind of open marketplace or transit stop for the rest of the world and instead guard our resources and promote policies and values that are about social cohesion.

    1. You are wrong for a few reasons.

      First, the vast majority of criminal cases do not require interpreters. But, a single delay can cause havoc for all the cases around it. If a trial is listed but the interpreter fails to show up then the trial has to be re-listed on another day meaning that other cases are delayed. Don't forget that it's not only defendants who require interpreters. Frequently, it's witnesses and victims too.

      Secondly, many of those using interpreters in the courts do indeed speak English sufficient for everyday life. But giving evidence requires a much greater level of understanding that may not be present for non-native English speakers. It's very easy to confuse somebody in a court room who doesn't speak English like a native, which isn't fair to them or the defendant. It's also hard for the lawyer to draw out the points they want and for the judge/jury to understand what they are being told.

      Finally, people who think that there is such a thing as a pure Brit are hopelessly ignorant of British history to an extent where I doubt they could possibly pass the immigration test! The history of Britain is the history of immigration from around the globe. Our language draws on sources from around the world and everyday we use a host of foreign words without realising it!

      Britain has always been a constantly evolving culture. Those who want to end Britain's place as a world-wide melting pot of cultures are the people who really want to destroy the Britain that has existed since long before Britain itself existed!


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