The Legal Aid Agency received only one application for criminal legal aid in Welsh in a year, according to a report assessing its language commitments when providing services in Wales.
Every year the agency submits a Welsh Language Scheme report to the Welsh Language Commissioner after adopting the principle that, in the conduct of business, the English and Welsh languages would be treated equally. Legal aid contracts require Welsh language services to be provided to people in Wales as a matter of course. Public documents are produced in both languages.
The agency’s report for 2018-19, published today, states that a quarter of its customer services team in Wales can speak Welsh. The team covers frontline services, and helps with proof-reading and ad-hoc translations. A further two bilingual staff work in other departments in the agency’s Cardiff office.
The criminal legal aid application process includes an online Welsh language application form. However, in the year up to 31 March 2019, only one application was submitted in Welsh.
Telephone figures are slightly higher. Between April 2018 and March 2019, 165 calls were made to the Welsh language telephone line – an 8% increase on the previous year. The agency received 101 requests through its client and cost management system (CCMS), its online billing portal, and 18 emails, in Welsh.
Providers with face-to-face contracts must be able to provide a Welsh language service. Over 60% of providers in Wales employ one or more Welsh speakers. The report says those who do not currently employ a Welsh speaker are mostly based in the south east of Wales, where demand for Welsh services is lower. The agency has also responded to provider queries in Welsh on Twitter.
A new contractor for the Civil Legal Advice service has three Welsh-speaking operatives.
No complaints were received about the agency’s Welsh language services. The agency says it is ‘actively’ looking to develop the skills of its advanced Welsh learners 'and are exploring suitable courses for them'.
The report does not contain any detailed analysis of the figures. The Law Society has already warned that fewer younger people are entering the field of criminal defence work. In housing, only half of legal aid areas in Wales have just one provider. Last year a Swansea-based social welfare firm that helped 90,000 people over a decade with welfare benefit, housing and debt problems lost its battle to survive the government’s legal aid cuts.