Categorized | Criminal Justice, Legal Aid

Not an Epiphany

Not an Epiphany

Criminal barristers will stay away from court on 6 January in protest over cuts to criminal legal aid, the Criminal Bar Association has confirmed.

The CBA has hit out against a ‘misleading, cynical and underhand’ list of barristers’ names sent by the Legal Aid Agency to solicitors looking for counsel to undertake very high cost cases (VHCC). A list of 330 barristers and higher court advocates has been provided to law firms who contacted the agency after being unable to find counsel to take on VHCC work at the 30% reduced fee rates.

The LAA denied that there is a secret list, explaining that the information given to firms is merely a list of advocates accredited to do VHCCs and does not indicate that those on it will work at the lower rates. But the ‘Law Gazette’ reports that Tom Handley, director of Exchange Chambers, which has 22 barristers named on the list, posted a statement on the set’s website saying: “This list is clearly aimed at creating divisions within the profession by suggesting barristers are prepared to undertake VHCC work at the new lower rates when they are not.”

He said none of the barristers named is prepared to undertake VHCC work and called the list “deliberately misleading, cynical and underhand.”

Criminal Bar Association chairman Nigel Lithman QC said the inference that those named on the list are prepared to conduct VHCCs at the lower rates has ‘outraged’ many who feel ‘let down and insulted’ by the LAA. But this is not the only reason for the proposed action.

In his weekly email to members last Monday Nigel Lithman drew attention to the fact that the MOJ were £56 million under budget for the last fiscal year, and asked why the MOJ are in such a rush to “slash & burn” the Criminal Bar out of existence without properly assessing the impact of their proposals.

He wrote: “We know, because you have told us, you want your voice heard in response to the imposition of VHCC cuts and the proposals for further fee cuts. We know, because you have made it clear, that you want to show the MOJ the depth and breadth of your concerns, how destroying the future of the criminal bar will impact upon the criminal justice system in the long term.”

He went on to say: “Some members of the CBA have decided that they will no longer be available /will not work during the morning of the 6th January; but will be available to attend Court from 2 pm only on that day. Those of you who want to show your support will decide for yourselves whether you too will choose to work for the first half of that day or only as from 2 pm. We hope that judges will be sympathetic to applications for a 2 pm start. This appears to be a wholly reasonable and proportionate response to the
conduct of the MOJ.”

The choice of date is interesting. January 6th is not only the first day of term but also the feast of the Epiphany, a word that derives from the Greek verb ‘to appear’, and means ‘manifestation, appearance.’ That is precisely what the barristers will not be doing – at least until 2pm.

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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