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The Welsh Affairs Committee is outraged with the Legal Services Commission (LSC) over its failure to consult with the Wales Office or the Welsh Assembly Government about the LSC's decision to significantly reduce its Cardiff office.
In a report published last week, the Committee said the failure to consult "is unacceptable and presents a serious risk to the provision of legal aid services in Wales".
The Committee said it was shocked to discover that the LSC had no contact with the Wales Office at all about its plans to relocate services from Cardiff to another office in England. It is now calling on the LSC to consider alternatives.
The Committee is not convinced that an English office would have sufficient resources or expertise to interpret Welsh legislation and future Welsh measures, such as on housing and vulnerable children.
It is, says the report, disturbing that the LSC, as an agency of the Ministry of Justice, "has demonstrated such a lack of awareness about the devolution settlement".
The extent of consultation by the LSC with other stakeholders was extremely limited. Excluding these parties from consultation is, according to the report, "evidence of an inward-looking and metropolitan attitude that is insensitive to the needs of a devolved administration". Consultation appeared to be an afterthought, conclude the MPs.
The Committee recommends that no change to the functions of the Cardiff office should be made until thorough and genuine consultation has taken place to determine its likely impact on levels of service.
Whitehall guidance on devolution should also be strengthened to prevent confusion about the devolution settlement and to clarify the role of the Secretary of State and the Wales Office.
The Chairman of the Committee, Dr Hywel Francis MP, said: "I am pleased that the Minister has acknowledged that mistakes were made during this process and that he is seeking more time for this to be done properly. It is essential that more time is now allowed for thorough consultation to take place before any decision on the future of the Cardiff office is made. My Committee will continue to monitor developments."
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