BSN threatens judicial review on impact of competitive tendering in crime

PUBLISHED May 19, 2005

Legal aid: large number of ethnic minority firms could be wiped out by price wars
A group representing black solicitors has threatened the Legal Services Commission (LSC) with judicial review proceedings if it does not address the impact of price competitive tendering for criminal law work in London on ethnic minority law firms, it emerged last weekend at the Minority Lawyers Conference in London.

In a letter before action, the Black Solicitors Network called on the LSC to fulfil its promises to assess the effect on ethnic minority firms before drafting the bid document.

Chairwoman Yvonne Brown said the current proposals could be in breach of the Race Relations Act 1976 because they could ?wipe out? a huge number of ethnic minority firms.

She said: ?The LSC is not in a position to draft the bid documentation until it has considered its duties under the Act. Half of the firms currently offering a criminal law service in London are ethnic minority firms. Because we are so heavily [represented], we will be disproportionately affected by these measures.?

She added: ?The LSC said in November that it would undertake meetings with black and ethnic minority firms. It said it would commission consultants to do research and then implement strategies to ensure that black and ethnic minority firms could participate in the work. We are asking them to do what they said they would do.?

Ms Brown said she feared that as ethnic minority firms tend to be far smaller than other firms, they will not be able to achieve the economies of scale needed to put in a bid at the lowest price.

Caroline Herbert, chairwoman of the Law Society?s equality and diversity committee, said: ?Black lawyers can be excluded from the large and medium-sized firms, so they set up their own small practices in their community areas. If their legal aid contracts are taken away, they will not be able to provide legal aid services to their community.?

A spokesman for the LSC said: ?We will continue to work with the Law Society, the Bar Council and the Black Solicitors Network to address the concerns of black and ethnic minority individuals who carry out publicly-funded criminal defence work.?