Categorized | Criminal Justice, Legal Aid

News from the front

News from the front

On the second day of nationwide protests against new contracts and fee cuts it was announced that criminal solicitors voted overwhelmingly in favour of individual direct action over the government’s legal aid cuts.

The Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA), which has 1,100 members, and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA), which has 750 members, opened a ballot asking members to refuse work under the new ‘derisory’ rates following the introduction of a second 8.75% fee cut. Of 1,163 solicitors who responded, 1,056 voted in favour of action. The ballot was open to other members of the profession, and 400 of 402 members of the independent bar voted in favour of action, as did all 22 legal executives who responded, 152 paralegals and 23 employed barristers.

Lawyers across the country, including Merseyside, London, Kent, Devon, Manchester, Leeds, Halifax, Derby, Birmingham, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Sunderland, Newcastle, Reading, Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Bradford and Hull also voted in favour of action.

On the seventh day of action practitioner groups revealed that they are in talks with the Ministry of Justice. Bill Waddington, chair of the CLSA said that the MoJ ‘has opened up lines of dialogue’ but declined to say more.
The news emerged as a high-profile murder trial was delayed after the defendant was not able to get representation. A preliminary court appearance of a man accused of a 1984 murder, had to be adjourned for three weeks due to the impact of direct action.

Jonathan Black, president of LCCSA, said: “The issue is access to justice and no lawyer can prepare a murder [case] at the new slashed rates, if they could, he would of course be represented. Even outside the scope of any action, I have witnessed an unrepresented defendant some months ago being remanded by Crown courts as he was not granted a lawyer.”

Lawyers employed by the Public Defender Service (PDS) have been deployed in police stations as part of the government’s response to action by practitioners across England and Wales protesting against legal aid cuts. Despite the deployment, the Ministry of Justice described the impact of direct action as ‘negligible’.

In a statement, the MoJ said: “The courts sat as usual and the vast majority of cases requiring a solicitor at the police station were picked up within an hour.”

Meanwhile, the Criminal Bar Association announced that it is balloting members on whether they want to support solicitors by reviving last year’s ‘no returns’ policy and refusing new work with a representation order dated from 1 July. This followed an informal vote in May in which the CBA said that 96% of respondents in a turnout of 35% had backed direct action.

CBA chair Tony Cross QC revealed his colours when he said that he will be voting ‘no’ to strike action by the bar, urging his members to ‘get real’ and place their faith in engagement with the Ministry of Justice. He said: “The lord chancellor has demonstrated his commitment to the bar. Look at his deeds. There has been no cut in advocacy fees. What more do you expect? Blood?”

On day 8 lord chancellor Michael Gove met representatives from the largest criminal legal aid firms. The group said in a statement that Gove “engaged fully with us in our case against the cut and listened to us carefully. He said the lines of communication remain open. It was no surprise that he gave no indication that he would reverse the cut at this stage.”

Tuckers senior partner Franklin Sinclair said: “If the bar supports us next week then I think [Gove] is going to find himself in a very difficult and serious position. He will have no allies.”

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 “News from the front”

  1. Fight the good fight , ladies and gentlemen, from whichever trenches you occupy, but consider if you were practicing in Greece…..

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