It was only in July that the Lord Chancellor announced the results of the Department for Constitutional Affairs?s (DCA) fundamental review of legal aid and, importantly, set up the Carter Review into procurement to assess possible solutions to the problems it exposed.

This week legal aid practitioners might fairly be asking the question: ?Why did Lord Falconer bother?? For at last week?s Legal Aid Practitioners Group annual conference, the DCA minister responsible for legal aid policy blatantly suggested that one of the most contentious reforms of the system ? competitive tendering ? looks set to be progressed well before Lord Carter can even clear his throat.

Bridget Prentice attempted to sugar-coat the proposals by saying that the government has no intention of taking any final decisions until after the expected Carter report date of January 2006.

However, she said the Legal Services Commission?s current plan ?is to launch an auction process in April 2006 with implementation from October 2006?.

That sounded to many as though the DCA has made up its mind to steamroller ahead and that Carter will be little more than window dressing.

Practitioners feel alienated from the decision-making process. If that is not what the government intends, then it needs to act fast to reassure a rightly sceptical group of lawyers.

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