Categorized | Criminal Justice, Legal Aid

Big firms support legal aid protest action

Big firms support legal aid protest action

The Big Firms Group, an alliance of over 30 large criminal legal aid firms that do around 25% of criminal legal aid work, said it would support individual direct action after a meeting held last week. Members of the Big Firms Group have sought advice from Blackstone Chambers’ Dinah Rose QC on the action.

Bill Waddington, chair of the CLS, said the Big Firms Group’s decision sends out the ‘strongest signal’ that the legal profession has had enough of the government’s legal aid policy, which he said was driving legal aid firms and their staff into financial ruin. “All over the country solicitors are joining forces with local barristers to fight for justice” he said. “We ask the government and the new lord chancellor to halt the cuts, stop churning out bogus statistics and engage in meaningful discussions.”

Leicester and Teesside became the first centres of dissent in the growing campaign among lawyers to take direct action against the government’s legal aid cuts.

They were bucking a trend demonstrated by votes in Liverpool, Manchester and London, which have backed individual direct action. In Manchester there was a unanimous agreement from all the firms present not to do any own-client work or to apply for legal aid for any cases from 1 July. But practitioners will continue to do duty work to avoid breaching their contract.

Lawyers in London unanimously agreed that the levels of funding about to be introduced were ‘untenable’, and that the two-tier contract scheme risks ‘irreparable and unconscionable damage to the criminal justice system’.

The largest criminal legal aid firms have said they will individually support direct action in a move that has added momentum to legal aid protests in response to cuts. New duty contracts for solicitors to cover police stations and magistrates courts are due to come into effect in January 2016 and will change the rates paid for preparing a range of casework. According to criminal solicitors, the fees in some areas will fall by a further 25-30% next year, with the rates for some categories dropping by more than half.

The Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA) and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) have extended their joint ballot on direct action to Thursday at 10pm. Jonathan Black, chair of the LCCSA, said that the ballot so far appears to be “overwhelmingly in support of action.”

Waddington and Black said that the knock-on effect of the cuts will seriously impact upon the junior bar in terms of reduced instructions. They added that many at the junior bar have contacted them to express their concerns and to register their opposition. But CBA chair Tony Cross said that the association cannot fight solicitors’ battle for them.

The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has denied putting pressure on solicitors over their decision to forgo legal aid work. A number of solicitors have informed the LCCSA they have received calls from the LAA warning them against taking action. The LAA said that contract managers frequently speak to providers and ‘if appropriate’ may remind them of their contractual arrangements and responsibilities.

The action proposed is to decline all new legal aid cases with immediate effect from 1 July. Wednesday will be crucial to see the extent to which action, or lack of it, replaces protests. Sporadic direct action against legal aid cuts last year failed to deter Gove’s predecessor, Chris Grayling, from imposing the 17.5% cuts.

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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