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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 November 2006, 08:49 GMT
Lawyers protest over aid reform
Police cell generic
Solicitors are not servicing police stations at Cardiff and Barry
A hundred criminal defence lawyers in the Cardiff area have withdrawn their services over the weekend in protest at proposals for legal aid reform.

Solicitors will not give advice at police stations around the city between 1800 GMT Saturday and 0900 GMT Monday.

They say the action is in protest at the "far reaching and unjust legal aid reforms" under consideration.

The government said it was contrary to defendants' best interests, and the new legal aid system was less bureaucratic.

The lawyers from the south Wales area decided on the action at a meeting on Friday.

Because of their protest, there will only be one duty solicitor for Cardiff and one for Barry over the weekend.

'Highlight threats'

In addition, solicitors will not represent clients at Cardiff Magistrates Court on Monday, unless there is a representation order for legal aid in force.

Solicitor Simon Mumford, chairman of the Confederation of South Wales Law Societies, said they "regretted" the withdrawal of their services in this way.

"But there is no other way in which to highlight the threats to the criminal justice system."

Mr Mumford said similar action had already been taken by solicitors in Plymouth but this was the biggest protest so far against the proposed changes to the criminal justice system.

He said the government was attacking the criminal justice system.

Simon Mumford
Mr Mumford said the solicitors regretted the action

Mr Mumford said that the imposition of means-tested legal aid in the magistrates courts did not allow many mentally ill and educationally disadvantaged people, those who receive no benefits and others to be allow the representation they so obviously "are desperate for".

He also said many law firms were shutting their criminal litigation departments ahead of proposed cuts in legal aid, resulting in many support staff losing their jobs.

Plans to make a large number of court staff redundant over the next few months would also reduce the efficiency and speed of the courts, added Mr Mumford.

"We think these proposals are the most far reaching action taken. It's going to close things down completely."

'Continue to listen'

In response, a spokesperson for the Department of Constitutional Affairs said "The proposed action is contrary to the best interests of defendants, including some of the most vulnerable people in society.

"We have consulted with lawyers and listened to their views. We continue to listen and are keeping the scheme under active review.

"The new system is simpler and less bureaucratic than the old means test. It will ensure that those who can pay do pay - saving around 35m each year. It has been designed to avoid unnecessary delay to the Criminal Justice System.

"We have also announced a new payment for solicitors for time spent assisting applicants"

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