The government has no plans to expand the Public Defender Service, its new chief has told legal aid practitioners.

Malcolm Bryant, previously head of exceptional cases at the Legal Aid Agency, told a Westminster Legal Policy Forum on next steps for legal aid that he had taken on the new role of head of the PDS, which became the first salaried criminal defence service in England and Wales when it was set up in 2001. It has offices in Cheltenham, Darlington, Pontypridd and Swansea, and provides defence advice and representation in police stations, magistrates and Crown courts.

In 2015 the Ministry of Justice went on a recruitment drive for duty solicitors in South Wales, North Yorkshire, County Durham and Gloucestershire to manage additional volumes of work under new crime contracts that were starting the following year.

The PDS currently employs 53 legal staff – 20 advocates, 4 QCs, 23 solicitors and six accredited police station representatives.

Asked if the PDS was expanding, Bryant told the forum: ‘It’s exactly the same as it has been for a number of years. We’ve got four solicitor officers around the country and then an advocacy team. There are no plans to expand the PDS at all. We have experienced some of the similar issues to criminal practitioners… but there are no plans to increase the DPS. It’s there as it has been for several years.’

The MoJ told the Gazette that the PDS is a department of the LAA and is not, therefore, a contracted service, but it is expected to meet the same quality standards regarding offices, supervisors, hours and work requirements. It is also peer reviewed.

According to the LAA’s 2019-20 annual report, the PDS was developing specialisms in vulnerable clients, particularly those with mental health conditions and learning disabilities, including autism, and expanded its prison law practice.