The Legal Aid Agency has dropped proposals to merge duty schemes in Wales following solicitors' concerns that the merger could lead to delays at police stations and significantly increase defendants' travel time.
The agency had consulted on merging the Mold and Hawarden, and Wrexham court rotas following a request from HM Courts & Tribunals Service to help with the efficient running of the court service in the North East Wales local justice area.
It proposed merging the two court duty rotas so that duty slots are shared across all providers that qualify for the two schemes. Alternatively, schemes for court duty work and police station matters could be merged. However, the majority of respondents favoured the third option: leaving existing arrangements as they are.
Solicitor-advocate Ian Barnes, director of Wrexham firm Allington Hughes, told the Gazette at the time of the consultation that delays caused by merging the schemes could prompt suspects to change their mind about obtaining legal advice.
The agency's consultation response document, published this week, states that respondents highlighted potential difficulties for smaller providers covering a busier scheme in Wrexham. The increased travel time would be unremunerated.
A court rota merger could lead to difficulties listing trials in Mold if Mold solicitors are also covering court duty work in Wrexham. The youth court at Mold would sit on the same day as the busiest court day in Wrexham.
A police station merger could cause delays if, for instance, due to the time it would take Wrexham solicitors to reach St Asaph police station to deal with Mold arrests, solicitors pointed out.
The agency said the current schemes will remain unchanged.
Meanwhile the agency said North Anglesey, and Bangor and Caernarfon duty schemes will be merged for court duty and police station matters following a consultation. Proposals were suggested due to Holyhead Magistrates' Court closing and its court work moving to Caernarfon Justice Centre.
North Anglesey, in relation to police station work, 'is deemed to be a fragile scheme in its present constitution and the scheme is potentially at risk', the agency said this week. A merger would increase the number of duty solicitors, which would address conflict, diversity and membership issues.
A 'larger pool of providers' on one rota would provide additional back-up in busy times. However, the agency said it will 'keep the position under review' to ensure there is adequate solicitor provision. These schemes will be merged in January.