It appears, reading back over the last few posts, that I've become a little side-tracked by money, and for that I apologise. I certainly wouldn't want anyone to get the idea that lawyers are fixated by the subject. But, I beg your indulgence once more, before I get on my high horse, and move on to advocacy within the CPS.
Best-value tendering. Three words (despite the best efforts of that wretched hyphen) to strike fear into the heart of any lawyer. They should also scare any member of the public concerned about being arrested for some spurious reason, i.e., all of us.
The concept, for those lucky enough to remain outwith the clutches of the criminal justice system, is this: firms will bid in an auction for the right to conduct defence work for people who can't afford a lawyer, and that work will then be dished out in parcels.
Firstly, the idea that the state will pay highly trained lawyers to try to put people in jail, and then pay highly trained lawyers to try to keep those same people out of jail, is a brilliant one. It is a ringing endorsement of democracy, and the continually operating proof that the state is not tyrannical, that justice is not arbitrary, and that justice is for all, regardless of financial means.
It sums up the very British emphasis that our legal system places upon fair play. We even have a legal principle called "equality of arms", which is the legal equivalent of divvying up ammunition before going over the top.
Alas and alack, someone somewhere noticed that we spend rather a lot per capita on legal aid in comparison with our neighbours -- almost £30 per person per annum, compared to about £4 in France. As legal insurance goes, it's pretty good.
What's this auction about then? Why do lawyers need help driving up prices? Shurely shome mishtake? Well, some clever little civil servant has had a brainwave. Dutch auction. Reverse auction. Firm A has a look at its payroll and books, and says "we can handle 100 cases a year for £25,000".
That's a made-up number, by the way, and I apologise to those among you who have recently redecorated their monitors in a shade of Tetley.
Anyway, Firm B then has to say "Well, we'll do 200 cases for £25,000". Or, "We'll do 100 cases for £12,500".
The result is a race to the bottom, in terms of quality and service. So guess who suffers? You. The poor sod who's been arrested and needs some decent advice. This reverse auction was tried with home care for the elderly, and the results were shocking and immediate, with one firm losing its licence to provide home care shortly after winning a contract, so poor was the "care" provided. The winning rate was about £7 an hour. Cooked home meals became sandwiches and crisps bought on the way over to Doris from Gladys, simply because staff were so stretched.
A joint response from the Criminal Bar Association and the General Council of the Bar pointed out that this system is actually "price-competitive tendering", and isn't used anywhere else in the world in relation to legal services, except in the USA. Even the Yanks realised that if the system preserves the quality of representation, it didn't produce the savings sought (Chapter IV of the Department of Justice Special Report, cited in the above link).
What a surprise.