Tag Archive | "Nigel Lithman QC"

Legal aid truce with barristers

Bar leaders have agreed an interim deal with the Ministry of Justice to end the fee impasse that had threatened to derail several major trials, with a view to reforming the payment scheme for the most expensive cases.

Under the agreement, revised fixed fees, to be determined on a case-by-case basis, will be paid to advocates undertaking very high cost criminal cases (VHCCs). Details of the individually negotiated fees have not been revealed. Read the full story

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House divided

One heartening and effective feature of the past twelve months has been the united resistance of solicitors and barristers to Grayling’s proposals to impose legal aid and fees cuts.

Throughout the consultation exercises, barristers have been united with solicitors in protesting against the cuts, despite an early ham-fisted attempt by Grayling to drive a wedge between the two bodies. Barristers have joined in the two walkouts this year in protest against cuts to legal aid.
Read the full story

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How effective are walk-outs?

Last Friday more than 1,000 barristers and solicitors protested outside parliament at cuts to criminal legal aid in their first full-day walkout. They are not calling it a strike, but that is how it will be seen.

At the rally opposite the House of Commons, Sir Ivan Lawrence QC, the former Conservative MP, said: “I’m ashamed of this government. I have been a Conservative for 60 years of my life. Never has there been a demonstration like this. It’s atrocious that this government has forced us to come and behave like this.” Read the full story

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Lawyers walk out in half-day protest

Crown and magistrates courts across England and Wales were affected on Monday morning as criminal barristers and solicitors walked out in protest over government plans to cut legal aid.

The largest demonstration, numbering around 300, took place outside Westminster Magistrates’ Court. Other protests were held outside London’s Old Bailey – where 10 new trials and six ongoing trials were disrupted, including a murder case, a hearing involving an alleged sex ring and the phone-hacking trial – and Southwark Crown Court, as well as outside Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol, Chelmsford and Cardiff Crown courts. Read the full story

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Barristers vote for strike action

The Criminal Bar Association, a union of more than 4,000 lawyers, has unveiled a new campaign poster ahead of protests against the proposed cuts in London on Saturday. One placard will read: “Murderers, rapists, paedophiles – who will prosecute these men?”

Nigel Lithman QC, chairman of the association, said the public show of defiance could be a precursor to industrial action as early as January 2014. Read the full story

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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.”

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Liverpool Roadshow

The Law Society Roadshow rolled into Liverpool on Wednesday when a well attended meeting heard Richard Miller, head of legal aid, explain the current state of play regarding the new proposals on legal aid.

He was at pains to make it clear that, despite rumours to the contrary, the Society had not accepted the proposed package as a whole. In particular they were campaigning strenuously against all the cuts. Read the full story

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