The new legal aid minister this week gave a clear commitment to conduct ?a full race impact assessment? on any proposals the government wishes to take forward from Lord Carter?s review of legal aid procurement.

Vera Baird said the government would also be running ?a full consultation? on the proposals.

She told delegates at the Black Solicitors Network (BSN) annual lecture: ?Whichever options are presented by Lord Carter, the Department for Constitutional Affairs will be running a full consultation on those we may be minded to accept? there will have to be, and will be, a full race impact assessment of these proposals if they become government proposals.?

She added: ?There will be a duty to ensure that all communities are served? we will look to ensure that diversity policies are present in all contracting firms to safeguard those members of black and ethnic minority firms [which] decide that they do need to merge.?

BSN chairwoman Yvonne Brown said: ?That is the first time that the government has made it absolutely clear that it will be undertaking a race impact assessment. We would hope that they would use the same firm [MDA] as the Legal Services Commission used for its assessment [of its competitive tendering proposals].?

Sailesh Mehta, chairman of the Society of Asian Lawyers, added: ?It is clear from the MDA report that when there is a massive reduction in the number of firms that will be able to do police station work, that will have a disastrous effect on BME [black and minority ethnic] firms, to the extent that it may well be in breach of the Race Relations Act 1976.

?It is pointless to spend months preparing the [Carter] report and then to do an impact assessment report afterwards, when you already have one, so you know what the effect is going to be.?

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