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Legal Aid Scheme

Justice written question – answered on 18th July 2013.

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Photo of Mark Williams Mark Williams Liberal Democrat, Ceredigion

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what estimate he has made of the optimum distance of travel to legal firms to enable people to be able to access legal aid.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

Between 9 April and 4 June 2013 the Government consulted on a number of proposals to reform legal aid via the ‘Transforming Legal Aid: delivering a more credible and efficient system’ consultation. This included a proposed model of competitive tendering for criminal legal aid services. We have been clear we must continue to bear down on the cost of legal aid, including nearly £1 billion of taxpayers' money spent on criminal legal aid a year, to ensure we are getting the best deal for the taxpayer.

Travel times between the provider of legally aided services and the client would be most heavily influenced by the size and geography of the proposed procurement area. We have explored how best to divide England and Wales into procurement areas (areas within which we would invite tenders to provide the full range of services), which would be the areas within which services would be delivered. We based our assessment of the options set out in the consultation paper on data from October 2010 to September 2011 on the volume and value of the criminal legal aid defence work which exists in each specified areas. The decision on the size of the procurement area would influence the number of providers in that area.

We considered four options for the size of the procurement areas, outlined on page 47 of the consultation paper, and proposed that—with the exception of London, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire—procurement areas should be set by the current Criminal Justice System areas.

In the consultation, specific questions were asked about the suitability of the proposed procurement areas. We asked respondents for their views on what factors should be taken into consideration in designing the criteria against which to test applicants for a new contract. We set out a number of proposed conditions including a requirement to have or commit to acquiring premises that are accessible for clients. Officials are analysing the responses now with a view to publishing the Government response in the autumn.

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