Former Solicitor?General Harriet Harman QC has taken over the key brief of legal aid following last week?s snap reshuffle of ministerial responsibilities at the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA).

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, will continue to deal personally with resourcing, major constitutional issues, and liaison with cabinet ministers and the higher judiciary.

As well as legal aid, Ms Harman will take control of justice in relation to crime, family courts, coroners and judicial appointments. Baroness Ashton of Upholland will tackle civil law policy, human rights, international and administrative issues, and offices such as the Law Commission, the Land Registry and the Official Solicitors Office.

Former legal aid minister Bridget Prentice will handle democratic issues such as the reform of the regulation of the legal profession and the overhaul of the House of Lords.

A DCA spokesman confirmed that the changes came at the instigation of Ms Harman. This followed the alleged cash-for-honours row in which her husband, the Labour treasurer, had said he was kept in the dark about loans to the party.

The Legal Aid Practitioners Group welcomed her appointment to the legal aid brief at a crucial time, with Lord Carter expected to produce his final report in the spring.

Director Richard Miller said: ?Harriet Harman?s background includes working at Brent Law Centre and the National Council for Civil Liberties, so she should have a good understanding of the vital role of legal aid.?

He also praised Ms Prentice. ?[She] will be remembered for the introduction of the legal aid impact test, which should help to shield the legal aid fund from the ?policy exocets? caused by the legal aid consequences of other departments? initiatives,? he said.

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