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Barristers’ boycott begins

Barristers’ boycott begins

When the Attorney General Dominic Grieve, QC addressed the this year’s Annual Bar Conference his main message was a stark warning about the dangers of taking industrial action. He particularly urged barristers not to return instructions they have accepted for the most serious criminal cases in protest at fee cuts, warning that if they do, the government may “look elsewhere” for others to do the work.

He said: “I do have concerns about returning instructions that have already been accepted, and particularly so where a trial date has been set.” He said the resulting disruption to the courts “carries with it the very serious risk that within government there will be a view that people should look elsewhere for the service to be provided…I think (it) is something which the bar has got to
bear in mind.”

But he accepted that barristers are entitled to refuse to accept new instructions at a fee they find unacceptable, and now a complex fraud trial, due to begin in late April, is threatened with collapse because barristers are refusing to take on defence work due to government cuts in legal aid. The case, involving eight defendants accused of land bank fraud, is the first criminal proceeding affected by concerted action by advocates refusing to accept work for lower fees.

This is a very complex case with more than 100,000 items of evidence. It would normally require 16 defence barristers, two for each defendant, but only two defence barristers were present at the pre-trial hearing. One of the defence solicitors said he had rung 17 chamber sets but all had declined to help. “None have said they would take on the case at the new rates.”

The MoJ is cutting rates paid for trials deemed to be very high cost cases (VHCC) by 30%. The reductions will affect trials starting after the end of March 2014.

The defending solicitor applied to have the date of the trial put back. The judge, Anthony Leonard QC, refused the delay and warned the defendants that they may have to represent themselves. He went on to tell the defendents that “They must be ready for trial … even if they have to attend in person to deal with it in person [however] much it will cost the country.” Cases involving unrepresented litigants usually last far longer.

Nigel Lithman QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, expressed the hope that refusing to take these briefs would not interrupt court cases but would send out a message that will be listened to. He said that the cuts were a recipe for chaos, adding “Criminal barristers nowadays have to work for a week to earn what commercial barristers earn in an hour. A questionnaire sent out to heads of chambers produced a reply that 95% of criminal barristers have said they will not take on very high cost cases at the reduced rate.”

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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One Response to “Barristers’ boycott begins”

  1. Will Clegg says:

    These cuts pose a very real threat to the equality of the justice system. If they are allowed to go ahead we will be living in a society where people who can’t afford legal representation will have to defend themselves.

    These cuts are short sighted and narrow minded and haven’t taken into consideration the damage that this will cause the legal profession, both now and in the future.

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