Fixed Rate Payment for Legal Advice in London (Supplementary) [1]

Session date: 
May 23, 2007
Question By: 
Valerie Shawcross
Organisation: 
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor

Question

This is obviously one of those issues where the Government - in this case the Legal Services Commission - is trying to resolve what is basically an efficiency issue by putting in place a national system, but it will not work for London, and London needs to be released from an overly rigid national fee framework.

You mentioned ethnic minority communities. I have to say I am particularly worried about the impact on the clients of ethnic minority companies. I gather there is a proposal that there would be a minimum size of contract so that the smaller firms - which research shows in London tend to be BME companies - would not be able to participate. I think we would be in a situation where this really important link between people in the community who are vulnerable and may have complex legal cases, are not able to use their local BME solicitors' firms. Indeed, we might find that some of the bigger firms go cherry picking and looking for the easy cases because it is a fixed fee system, rather than a system paid on hours.

There is some question about whether or not this would constitute indirect discrimination under the Race Relations Act. I wonder, Mayor, whether or not our legal advisers could look at this issue as to whether or not these changes, as they affect London, would disproportionately damage the legal support services to black and ethnic minority clients, and therefore might be challengeable under the Race Relations Act?

Answer

Answer for Fixed Rate Payment for Legal Advice in London (Supplementary) [1]

Answer for Fixed Rate Payment for Legal Advice in London (Supplementary) [1]

Answered By: 
The Mayor

I was stunned to discover that of the legal aid cases in London, 74% are from black and ethnic minority Londoners. The next highest city in Britain is 34% in Birmingham. So there is a dimension on ethnic minorities here that is out of all proportion to the rest of the country.

This is currently being challenged in the court. The Society of Asian Lawyers and the Black Solicitors' Network have sought a judicial review, and we hope very much the courts will rule in their favour. There is also a technical legal challenge from The Law Society, which is arguing that the Government is in breach of UK and EU legislation on public service contracts. So, there are two pending court cases which, hopefully, will sink this. Though of course, as to whether or not they do, I am not in a position to guess.