Concerns over legal aid provision in Wales
By Law News
Following concerns raised by the Law Society of England and Wales and local practitioners about legal aid in West Wales, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has intervened by uplifting police station fixed fees in Llanelli.
Duty solicitors who were covering Amman Valley, Carmarthen, were facing a dramatic reduction in their fees due to a change in custody suites last month. Overnight, 12 solicitors who provide essential legal advice to people who have been arrested were told that their fees would be slashed by 25%, with dire consequences for access to justice in a predominantly rural area. Their offices had not moved, the level of service remained the same. The only change was the location of police station.
President of the Law Society Nick Emmerson said: “We are pleased to see that the Ministry of Justice has responded to our calls to restore fees to their previous rates for the four affected law firms.
“Duty solicitors work hard with very little resources to help people at crisis point. We were concerned the arbitrary cuts to their fees would be the death knell for legal aid in an area that has long been considered an advice desert for criminal practitioners.
“Our members told us that the fee cuts meant it was no longer economically viable for the law firms covering this part of Wales to provide criminal legal aid. The MoJ has righted the wrong so that law firms in West Wales can continue to provide this service to the area.
“This is a specific example of the national crisis facing our criminal justice system and how it devastates local justice,” Nick Emmerson continued.
“Criminal legal aid requires urgent investment from the government: their own independent review from two years ago recommended a boost of 15% as a bare minimum lifeline. Since then, inflation has left firms in a worse situation than projected in the report. More and more solicitors are leaving the profession, the few that remain are struggling against the tide of advice deserts, a crumbling courts estate and case backlogs at record highs.
“We hope the positive step taken by the MoJ in this case will build momentum for the government to bring about further changes for the survival of legal aid and our criminal justice system.”