UK court Criminal barristers stop taking new crown court cases in legal aid protest
Criminal barristers are refusing to take on new cases at crown courts in protest at legal aid cuts.
Their action on Monday, following a vote by the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), is in support of solicitors who have experienced a 17.5% drop in pay for representing defendants.
Criminal solicitors have been taking action for the past three weeks but have now switched their focus to crown courts, where they will not accept work on new cases at the lower rates.
The solicitors have, however, gone back to work in magistrates courts and police stations. The change is aimed at bolstering the solidarity of the action while providing some income to cash-strapped firms who will now work in the lower courts.
A ballot by the CBA on 15 July saw a narrow majority of 55% in favour of the action. Barristers,’ leaders’ will meet again on Monday evening to review the changing circumstances.
The CBA met on Monday evening and reaffirmed its support for the protest. A spokesperson said: “The members of the CBA voted in July to take action against the latest cut in legal aid fees by adopting no returns and not taking instructions and it was recommended that the action starts on Monday 27 July.
We will continue to work closely with solicitors and listen to our memberships who are making considerable personal sacrifices in order to protect the public interest. We seek to maintain a high quality criminal justice system in which excellent public service is delivered by committed solicitors and vibrant independent bar.
Jon Black, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, said: “We are going to target the crown courts. We are going back to work in the magistrates courts. It was felt there [is] a lot of pressure on firms and they couldn’t take it any longer.”
Zoe Gascoyne, the chair of the Liverpool Law Society’s criminal practice committee, said: “The courts are experiencing backlogs and finishing much later than normal.
“The effect is going to be felt most in the crown courts because that’s where legal aid fee rates are most unsustainable. Judges don’t appear to be hearing cases where there are unrepresented defendants. Cases are being adjourned at great cost to the criminal justice system.”
Those taking part in the protest said steps had been taken to avoid having defendants arrive at court without access to counsel. A campaign on Twitter, legalaidhero, is designed to demonstrate the commitment and poor pay of those representing criminal defendants.
The Ministry of Justice has said that the action is not causing widespread disruption. A MoJ spokesperson said: “The changes we are making to criminal legal aid are designed to deliver value for money to taxpayers and do not impact on the availability of high quality legal advice to those who need it most.
“Although we recognize that the transition will be challenging for lawyers, these changes will put the profession on a sustainable footing for the long term. We have already pledged that an independent review looking at the impact of the new arrangements will begin in July 2016.”