The UK Government recently closed a consultation on reforming Legal Aid with plans to cut criminal legal fees by nearly 20 per cent. Around 400 legal aid contracts will be split up around England and Wales – replacing the 1,600 firms currently accredited at present.
Currently 29 firms serve North Wales with Legal Aid work, with seven firms serving the Wrexham area. This will be cut to four for the whole of North Wales under the UK Government’s plans.
Mr Skates said: “Unfortunately these devastating proposals will only serve to restrict access to justice for vulnerable and low-income groups in North Wales.
“The number of firms doing Legal Aid work will be cut to just four in North Wales, leaving many of the most vulnerable of my constituents without the specialist legal advice and representation they desperately need.
“By removing crucial services such as legal aid for family law and social welfare law services, it will only increase the pressure and demand being placed on other areas, such as local social services. This will mean that these plan will end up costing more money, not saving it as the Justice Minister says it will.
“Perhaps what I worry about most is that these changes could result in dangerous miscarriages of justice not to mention lead to significant job losses in the legal profession here in North Wales.”
The UK Government plans to award 21 contracts to provide legal aid in criminal cases in Wales – nine in South Wales and four each in Dyfed-Powys, Gwent and North Wales. This compares to 37 being planned in the Greater Manchester area alone.
The AM added: “There has always been a problem in access to legal aid in some parts of Wales, with significant gaps in areas outside the major urban centres of Cardiff and Swansea. The planned cuts will only make the situation even worse in rural areas of North Wales in particular.
“All that will be achieved with these cuts is to erode the fair access to justice for lower income groups and vulnerable people in North Wales. This is completely unacceptable and the UK Government needs to think again.”