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Temps on £9.30 an hour decide which legal aid firms survive, claims whistleblower

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Full statement of ex-bid assessor emerges online

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A former Legal Aid Agency (LAA) insider has alleged that inexperienced temps with no knowledge of the criminal justice process have been responsible for allocating key government contracts to law firms.

The LAA denies the claims, but the furious firms are gearing up to take legal action.

According to Freddie Hurlston, former head of criminal justice system initiatives at the Legal Services Commission, temps from Brook Street temping agency assessed criminal law firms’ bids for crucial state contracts. These are the lifeblood of such outfits as they desperately battle to survive looming funding cuts.

The government-led process is slashing the number of firms able to represent arrestees in police stations and magistrates’ courts from 1,600 to 527 — so the stakes are high.

Firms which had applied for the contracts found out on Thursday whether they had succeeded. However, just one day before “D-Day for legal aid”, the agency was rocked by Hurlston’s accusations of botched administration.

The ex-bid assessor came forward with shocking allegations about the agency’s approach to the 1,000 bids received — via this document, which has since emerged online.

Freddie Hurlston Statement (Full)

Hurlston claims that the staff hired to award the contracts were from Brook Street temping agency, and had no previous knowledge of the public funding procedure.

He also alleged that the rookies received “very limited” training before being let loose on the applications, and said they were paid £9.30 per hour for their work. Hurlston raised concerns, too, about the Legal Aid Agency’s heavy focus on quantity over quality, reporting that staff faced dismissal if they did not assess 35 questions a day.

In the wake of these allegations, the Legal Aid Agency has come forward to defend its assessment process as “robust and fair”, issuing this statement:

The Legal Aid Agency strongly denies these allegations. We followed a robust and thorough process in assessing duty tender bids. Assessors received comprehensive training to ensure transparent, consistent and fair treatment of all applications and the assessment process was subject to careful moderation and management at all stages.

But disgruntled solicitors are, unsurprisingly, not convinced. According to Bill Waddington, the chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, a “tsunami of litigation” against the agency is in the pipeline.

As pointed out by blogger David Allen Green, it seems rather unfortunate that the Ministry of Justice “could legally bungle-up a procurement exercise for ‘legal services’ where every aggrieved bidder can and will sue.”

Solicitors associations the Law Society, the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association are yet to officially back a public law challenge.

Brook Street did not respond to Legal Cheek‘s request for comment.

For updates on the latest developments, follow the whistleblower’s Twitter feed.