Wales

Solicitor warns legal aid cuts 'may delay' Welsh courts

A leading solicitor says cuts to the legal aid budget being debated in Parliament could "clog up" the court system in Wales.

Michael Imperato claims in some some instances simple hearings could take up to 60 times longer.

Figures show Wales is more reliant on legal aid than other parts of the UK.

The Ministry of Justice, which plans a £300m legal aid budget cut, mainly in civil cases, say modernisation and simplification are urgently needed.

Mr Imperato, the new president of Cardiff and District Law Society, represents 1,000 legal professionals.

A solicitor for 25 years, he said: "When you have a litigant in person, it's often a much slower process, everything has to be explained to them, and so you find a hearing which between two solicitors may take five minutes to sort out, could take five hours".

He also expressed concern that the cuts will create "advice deserts - where an underclass who won't be able to afford solicitors or barristers will exist".

Figures seen by BBC Wales from the Citizens Advice Bureau for the last financial year show that in Wales of the people that needed help with a legal problem, 14% also inquired about or needed legal aid.

That compares to just under 9% as an average for the rest of the UK.

Erika Helps, chief executive of Rhondda Cynon Taf Citizens Advice Bureau, said: "Obviously these figures show that people in Wales are more dependent on legal aid than their contemporaries across the UK as an average."

She said she was concerned it would place a disproportionate burden on the Welsh courts.

"Clearly in the absence of funding for legal aid more people are going to want to represent themselves," she added.

Currently 215,000 private family law cases go through the Welsh and English courts each year.

In a statement, the Ministry of Justice said: "There is an urgent need to modernise and simplify the justice system and we are improving information and support for people who want to represent themselves.

"Legal aid will remain available for anyone at risk of serious violence, or losing their home - but we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world - which we cannot continue to afford."

More on this story