Legal Aid

Carter ? kill or cure?

PUBLISHED July 21, 2006

For partners in small firms the uncertainty over whether they have a future in legal aid continues.

Lord Carter?s report on legal aid procurement was finally published last week, six months late and at a cost of ?1.5 million.

However, the government?s trouble-shooter is likely to be pleased with the immediate reaction to his long-awaited proposals.

The national press lapped up the claim that the days of the ?1 million legal aid lawyer (generally accepted as a myth) had come to an end.

And the relatively muted response from key stakeholders ? an acknowledgment perhaps that the status quo was simply not an option ? will also have been a fillip.

Still, several concerns with the proposals remain ? not least the diversity implications. This is despite Lord Carter?s confidence ? and the opinion of leading counsel ? that the proposals do not breach race relations legislation.

The biggest worry will be the report?s effect on the supplier base. By Lord Carter?s estimation, some 400 firms will disappear from the criminal defence market alone if the reforms are implemented. On the civil side, the effect of the introduction of community legal aid centres and networks is still unknown, but could ? if anything ? be more dramatic.

The creation of a ?4 million fund to help firms restructure and a ?6 million programme for IT modernisation will help ease the pain.

But for partners in small firms and sole practitioners the uncertainty over whether they have a future in legal aid continues.