Legal Aid

Barristers warn of advice deserts as Carter impact looms

PUBLISHED December 12, 2006

The Welsh Bar is urging solicitors to tap into expertise that is available on their doorstep, reports Jon Robins

?There is sometimes a concern on the part of the Welsh bar that solicitors will go out of Wales to obtain advice from counsel, whereas all the expertise is here and on the circuit,? claims Robin Spencer QC, leader of the Wales and Chester circuit.

He practises from 1 Stanley Place (up until recently Sedan House) in Chester, as well as 9-12 Bell Yard in London. ?The instruction of counsel to do work on circuit from Bristol and London is something that has been a matter of regret,? the silk continues.

?I would stress very strongly there is great expertise in all areas of practice in the bar, especially in these challenging times for Wales.?

Despite 1 Stanley Place?s English address, in one respect it is the most Welsh of chambers ? nearly half of its members are Welsh speakers. ?In light of the Welsh Assembly, it is very important that we can offer counsel?s advice in the Welsh language,? comments practice manager Angela Malcolmson. There are no chambers based in north Wales, but the area has traditionally been served from Chester ? predominantly through 1 Stanley Place ? as well as Cardiff and Swansea. ?We do a lot of work in north Wales, mid-Wales and down to Aberystwyth. We cover all the Welsh courts and into Cheshire,? explains Ms Malcolmson.

The largest set in Wales is 30 Park Place in Cardiff, with 57 members and an impressive clutch of 12 silks.

?We cover all the courts in Wales, and west England as well,? reports practice manager Gwyn Lloyd. ?At this moment in time, we have members working as far west as Worcester and Birmingham. It simply depends where the work is.?

The set claims to have the highest concentration of family QCs outside of London. Other Cardiff chambers include 33 Park Place and Temple Chambers, both with more than 40 members.

Almost two-thirds of 30 Park Place?s work is publicly funded, and tenants are gearing themselves up for the Carter revolution. ?We are trying to be as positive as we can, but certainly at the junior end, where there?s the greatest fear, instead of specialising as soon as they might have done in the past they?re now starting to keep their options open,? comments Mr Lloyd.

He says it is important for chambers to retain a high proportion of publicly funded work in the face of change. ?We aren?t exactly the richest area in the world and it is important for people who don?t have the funds to have access to justice.?

Iscoed Chambers is the biggest Swansea set with 33 members. There are four other established sets. ?We cover all of south Wales and mid-Wales, and we do work across the border through to the West Midlands, including acting for some of the London firms,? explains Paul Thomas, one of its two QCs. About three-quarters of the chamber?s work is legally aided.

Are the advice deserts for solicitors as marked as commentators suggest? ?They are really starting to develop clearly,? the silk replies. ?We have had a very good close working relationship with firms in the rural areas. It would be a great shame if there was any erosion of the quality and quantity of advice in such areas. I fear Carter will contribute to that further erosion.?