Legal Aid Administration Offices in Wales

One of the Syniadau Forums is devoted to discussing the justice system in Wales. If people look at the contributions, they will see that this is something which is, slowly but surely, being devolved to Wales ... not least because there is an ever-growing body of laws which now apply specifically to Wales.

So it is rather strange to see this story in today's Western Mail about the threatened closure of Cardiff office of the Legal Services Commission, the body that runs the Legal Aid Scheme.

This is a map showing the LSC regions:


We can see that Cardiff is the only office in Wales. So closing it would leave Wales without any office at all, with the jobs relocated to Bristol instead.

Of late, I have been quite critical of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee over their performance when it comes to dealing with LCOs, but that shouldn't detract from the other good things the WASC does in standing up for Wales ... and one of those was to kick up a fuss about this proposed closure.

But the Welsh Affairs Select Committee says there was little or no consultation with either the Wales Office or the Assembly Government over the idea, an approach the committee describes as “unacceptable and betraying a poor understanding of the devolution settlement”.

In its report into the row, the committee says: “To exclude these parties from consultation on a decision that could have a serious impact on the quality of the legal aid service to the Welsh population is not only unwise, it is evidence of an inward-looking and metropolitan attitude that is insensitive to the needs of a devolved administration.”

Western Mail, 1 May 2009

Things don't get much more unequivocal than that! And the result, so far as I can see, was that the minister concerned and LSC have apologized profusely and will think again:

Paul Davies, the LSC Director for Wales, said: “We can only echo the apology made by Lord Bach, Minister for Legal Aid, when he appeared before the committee hearing in March this year.

“The Legal Services Commission is not closing its Cardiff office, and we will continue to have a strong presence in Wales.”

Good. If cuts are necessary (and I'm all in favour of efficiency savings) there's probably a very good case for reducing the number of jobs from 40 to something less, but not for closing the office altogether.

However there is more to consider. If you look at the map again, you will see that the LSC's North Region has five offices, with three clustered very close together. One of these, Chester, serves North Wales and is a remnant of the old Wales and Chester Circuit. As this has now become the Wales Circuit, keeping an office there is a bit of an anachronism. There is every case for moving (and maybe downsizing) the Chester office into North Wales. Mold is now the main centre of justice for North East Wales, but Caernarfon with its brand new Criminal Justice Centre and soon-to-be-built prison might be an even better choice for a North Wales Office.

In my opinion, especially if we make better use of telecommunications, two smaller, more local offices are nearly always going to be better than one large office.

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Anonymous said...

Why are you critical of the select committee? They seem to be processing these stupid things quite quickly. Don't believe all the propaganda from the odious Dafydd El.

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