The Legal Services Commission (LSC) bowed to pressure from the Black Solicitors Network (BSN) this month by agreeing to commission research into the likely effect of price- competitive tendering on ethnic minority legal aid firms in London.

The network had called on the LSC to honour its promise to conduct the impact assessment in a letter before action last month threatening judicial review proceedings (see [2005] Gazette, 19 May, 10).

In a parliamentary written answer, legal aid minister Bridget Prentice said the LSC was currently tendering for the research, and would publish its results in December ? just one month before competitive tendering is scheduled to be introduced in London.

However, an LSC spokesman said the research would be available to the LSC from October, and would be shared with the representative groups then.

BSN chairwoman Yvonne Brown said there was a ?grave risk? that the network would ?lose confidence in the LSC?s assertions that ethnic minority lawyers will be treated fairly? if competitive tendering were introduced before the results of the research had been analysed.

She added: ?As a disproportionate number of BME (black and minority ethnic) solicitors work in BME firms, it is very important that we ascertain whether there are any particular obstacles that they have to face in undertaking legal aid work, over and above those faced by other firms. I cannot see how the LSC can proceed until they have the outcome of the research.?

An LSC spokesman said the commission was ?strongly committed to promoting race equality and eliminating racial discrimination?.

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