Legal Aid

Carter?s ?struggle? with BME impact of his reforms

PUBLISHED March 30, 2007

Lord Carter admitted last week that he had been ?very exercised by the black and minority ethnic (BME) issue? surrounding the impact of his reforms to legal aid.

Speaking at an event organised by the Society of Asian Lawyers (SAL) and the Black Solicitors Network (BSN), together with the Law Society, he said: ?I know that the reforms do have a disproportionate effect in various areas.?

On the consultation on police station boundaries, where the Legal Services Commission (LSC) acknowledged for the first time that there was such an effect, he added: ?The issue around BME groups is not so much practitioners ? there is not much hard evidence that you are going to get less BME practitioners ? but around BME-owned firms. I have struggled in the course of the review and since unsuccessfully with that issue.?

Lord Carter called on BME lawyers to suggest a way forward, which he could then take to the LSC and the Department for Constitutional Affairs. They should also conduct research to help their case, he added.

However, a number of speakers insisted that the onus was on the government to ensure that the reforms complied with relevant race equality legislation.

SAL vice-chairman Sundeep Bhatia said the commission needed to go further than requiring firms to adhere to diversity policies. ?The BME issue is not a side issue, it?s not a tick-box issue or an afterthought. It has to be an essential part of any thinking or reforms, otherwise the communities that we serve are going to suffer.?

Lynton Orrett, a member of the BSN?s executive, warned that BME firms are ?at risk of being wiped out?. He revealed that leading counsel had advised that a full race equality impact assessment should be conducted before the reforms are implemented.

Mr Orrett added: ?There?s a belief that provided there are BME practitioners, we do not need BME firms. The BSN is not happy with that. I?m pretty sure that if it went to judicial review, there would be others who [would not be] happy either.?

Philip Hoult