Legal aid shake up sparks worries for families in Wales

Morgan Fackrell, of Welsh Women's Aid, explains why abused women would suffer under the plans

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Vulnerable families in Wales could be left without legal representation as a result of a shake-up in legal aid, it has been claimed.

It is feared victims of domestic violence could be among those affected by a reduction in the number of firms offering legal aid.

Welsh Women's Aid says there could be a "significant impact" on women needing access to justice.

The Legal Services Commission (LSC) says client coverage will not be hit.

New contracts for legal aid providers will come into force on 14 October.

Clients with an ongoing family case with a firm that has not been awarded a contract will not be affected, as all providers will be able to continue cases opened before the end of current contracts.

Welsh Women's Aid legal issues co-ordinator Nesta Lloyd Jones said the changes could affect women when they "desperately need" help.

"The potential cuts to legal aid could have a significant impact on the women and children that Welsh Women's Aid member groups represent," said Ms Lloyd-Jones.

"We are pleased that for many years the Legal Services Commission... has viewed people who have experienced domestic abuse as a priority.

"Legal aid ensures that thousands of women who experience domestic abuse receive vital protection, information and access to justice on a range of important legal areas from injunctions to housing, immigration or debt advice.

"WWA are concerned that any cuts in the legal aid budget could have a significant impact on the women our members support and could lead to many women not having access to justice when they desperately need it.

"Two women are killed by a partner or ex-partner every week in the UK, and it is vital that all options... are available to them, to allow them to seek protection."

'Decimated'

North Wales family law firm GHP Legal has warned that the shake-up could cause particular problems in Wales and is backing calls by the Law Society for the LSC to urgently review the tender process.

Partner Stephen Edwards said: "The concern from a Wales perspective is that where traditionally people can access justice through their local solicitor, there now may be no solicitors left as the provider base has been decimated.

"There will be an almost 50% reduction in providers, which is quite astonishing."

The LSC said its priority was the number of people being helped - almost 300,000 a year - rather than the number of advice providers.

LSC chair Sir Bill Callaghan said: "An insistence on ensuring quality advice provision where it is needed is at the heart of our civil contracts tendering process.

"We are confident that we now have a quality provider base and quality-assured advice provision across Wales and England."

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