Legal Aid row hits Wrexham's courts


Rory Sheehan

AN ONGOING dispute over legal aid continued to wreak havoc with Wrexham’s court system on Friday.

Cases at Wrexham Magistrates Court were again affected by solicitors declining to represent clients without knowing whether they would be paid to do so.

The decision was part of continuing united action by Wrexham-based solicitors which began on Wednesday, in a dispute over delays to decisions regarding legal aid.

With no resolution, defendants again refused to plea without representation, which forced The Crown to send their cases straight to trial.

This has seen trial dates fill up with minor offences which could have been dealt with in minutes, witnesses called, and the cost to the public and defendants rise.

On Wednesday, Abrahams solicitor Andy Holliday explained that effectively, legal aid was the only way solicitors received payment for their services.

Outside court on Friday, Gittins McDonald solicitor Catherine Jagger said: “Clients have a right to a solicitor of their choice and legal aid is a statutory and human right.

“I had a case today for which I applied for legal aid yesterday at the first opportunity, and was told by the office in Caernarfon that they hadn’t looked at it yet. We’ve been patient for a long time and it gives us no pleasure to do this, for the sake of our clients.”

Allington Hughes solicitor Emma Simoes said: “You wouldn’t ask a gardener round to do some work, then discuss the possibility of them getting paid afterwards.

“We sympathise with the magistrates that cases need to be progressed, but we feel it’s more than fair to ask for an adjournment.”

In response to Wednesday’s action, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “The impact of any so-called solicitor ‘boycott’ has been minimal and the vast majority of courts are operating normally. Legal aid lawyers are still available to anyone facing criminal investigation that needs them.

“We have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world, and even after reform it will still be generous at around £1.5 billion a year. At a time of an unprecedented financial challenge we had no choice but to reduce the amount MoJ spends each year.”

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