Carter report heralds legal consolidation

Lord Carter of Coles has predicted massive consolidation for law firms and “the end of the £1m-a-year criminal defence barrister” in his report on legal aid procurement, unveiled this morning (13 July).

Speaking at a press conference to announce the report, Carter said its recommendations would reform the legal aid market and save £100m a year once fully implemented.

“This should provide the service, should thrive, and the model should be sustainable,” Carter said.

His recommendations include the introduction of fixed fees, payable on completion of a case, for simple criminal cases; a revision to the graduated fee scheme for more complex cases and civil matters; and the introduction of tendering for contracts based on quality, capacity and price.

Carter said that the new system will mean an end to the “unreasonably large amounts” paid to some leading counsel for arguing complex cases. He also predicted that it will result in more mergers between law firms and the end of around 400 small criminal practices.

The Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) and the Legal Services Commission also launched a consultation paper this morning designed to canvas the profession’s opinion on the proposals. The consultation period ends in October 2006.