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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.”

Gareth Jones, a criminal law practitioner, Director at Gomer Williams Solicitors and Vice Chair of the Law Society National Board for Wales, said:

“We welcome the u-turn by the ministry of justice regarding the fees at Dafen custody unit. It has been a difficult few months for us as a firm to deal with these sudden and unexpected reduction in our Police Station call-out fees.

“We hope this is just the start and that UK Government will commit to further investment in criminal legal aid and put an end to the ever growing legal advice deserts not just here in West Wales but throughout the country.”

Emmerson added that Law Society members informed the Law Society of England and Wales 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. He said:

“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.

“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. 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.”

*Since then, inflation has left firms in a worse situation than projected in the report. The Law Society reported that even 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.