Criminal legal aid protests continue

Barrister at the rally on 1st April

 

Criminal legal aid lawyers continued their protests over the legal aid cuts on Monday and Tuesday this week, despite the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) having agreed terms with the government last week.

 

The lawyers were joined by members of the probation staff union, NAPO, who were protesting  over the government’s plans to privatise the service. At a rally in central London, which took place on Tuesday (1st April), Paul Nowak,  the TUC Assistant General Secretary, said that that their was “no greater threat” to the probation service than privatisation, “profiting from criminal justice is just plain wrong.”

 

David Enright, a solicitor who played a leading role in the Gurkha Justice Campaign, was amongst the other speakers at the London event. In a passionate speech Enright said, “Those who defend our country deserve the means to defend themselves when they need it,” and he stressed it is “vital that everyone fight to overcome these legal aid cuts.”

 

Many of the lawyers at the rally, which was followed by a march to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), were critical of the CBA’s decision to call-off their action after agreeing a deal with the government. There were significantly fewer members of the Bar present than had attended the previous rally held on 7th March. A barrister  who was there told LAG, referring to the CBA’s decision to allow its members to vote on the deal,  “the fact that we are having a ballot means that this is not over.” 

 

Solicitors representing criminal legal aid practitioners are planning to bring judicial review proceedings against the government over the legal aid changes. LAG also understands that further protests are planned, but if the CBA sticks to its decision to accept the MOJ’s terms after its vote, forcing the government to change its mind will be a great deal harder for those barristers and solicitors continuing the fight.   

 

 

Update 8th April- Criminal legal aid solicitors are withdrawing from preparing cases in the Crown Court. The two main associations which represent them, the Criminal Law Solicitors Association (CLSA) and the London Criminal Courts Associations (LCCSA) have asked their members to consider boycotting new cases. The LCSSA say they will review the policy on 19th May.

 

 

CLSA Chairman Bill Waddington explained on the organisation’s website that they do not want to let down clients “in need, especially in serious cases”, but the move had been forced on them by the intransigence of the government. Waddington believes that “the whole future of British justice is at stake. Our once internationally respected criminal justice system is being so threatened by these unsustainable cuts that we do this to ensure the clients of the future, involved in complex cases, will have independent lawyers representing them.”

 

 

It is unprecedented for solicitors to organise a boycott in this way. To an extent they are trying to emulate the success of the Bar in obtaining concessions from the government by refusing cases, but it also illustrates the desperate situation many firms find themselves in. They know that they cannot sustain the cuts which have already been introduced and that the government’s plans to limit the numbers of police station contracts will sound the death knell for many of them. The boycott of Crown Court cases is their last throw of the dice to force the government to rethink.

 

Media Coverage 

 

The following are the results of a search of media coverage of the protests, thanks again to Lauren Karam, an intern at LAG, for compiling this-

 

Solicitors and probation workers strike over plans
BBC 31/3/14
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-26810738
Estimated 14,000 people to take part in the protests
Affecting London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds,

 

Solicitors try new tactic in legal aid dispute
The Guardian, 1/4/14
Owen Bowcott
http://www.theguardian.com/law/2014/apr/01/solicitors-no-new-cases-legal-aid-protest

Solicitors threatening to turn away new criminal cases due to legal aid cuts
Around 400 solicitors and staff marched outside of Parliament

Legal aid cuts: six lawyers on why they will damage our justice system
The Guardian, 1/4/14
Owen Bowcott
http://www.theguardian.com/law/2014/apr/01/legal-aid-six-lawyers-damage-legal-system
Interviews different people in the field
“Access to justice has to be as equal as possible. We don’t want one quality of justice for the rich and one for the poor. If we are moving in that direction, it’s a risky business. It can mean that the quality of justice differs according to the size of your bank balance.” –Lord Macdonald

 

Legal aid cuts: solicitors and probation officers begin mass walkouts
The Guardian, 31/3/14
Owen Bowcott

http://www.theguardian.com/law/2014/mar/31/legal-aid-cuts-demonstrations-criminal-justice

 

Demonstrators protest against MoJ’s ‘dangerous’ plans to slice £215m out of department’s annual budget for legal aid
third round of protests over cuts this year

Solicitors and probation workers strike over plans
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-26810738
31/3/14

 

Solicitors and the Probation Service protest at plans for cuts and privatisation
The Journal
Newcastle upon Tyne
Michael Brown 1/4/14
video and pictures

 

Canterbury Magistrates Court is a focal point of attention for protests against Legal Aid cuts
1/4/14 Alex Claridge
Kent Online
http://www.kentonline.co.uk/canterbury/news/protesters-attack-cuts-to-legal-15165/

around 50 protesters at Canterbury Magistrates Court

 

Solicitors from Maidstone firms protested outside the magistrates’ court in Palace Avenue, against plans to cut legal aid
1/4/14 Angela Cole
Kent Online
http://www.kentonline.co.uk/maidstone/news/solicitors-have-their-day-not-15173/

 

Probation workers protest against government plans to privatise service
Birmingham Mail 31/3/13
http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/birmingham-probation-workers-protest-against-6899392
local coverage of strikes in Birmingham

 

Pic: Barrister at the Westminster rally on Tuesday.

comments

    Will Clegg - 23rd April 2014

    It’s disgraceful that the Government think it is alright to deny the public access to legal aid when they need it.

    Chambers in London and around the country would be in a lot of trouble if they continued to take Legal Aid cases, and it highlights how important this issue is that Crown cases are being boycotted.

    The Government can’t ignore this forever, and I hope that barristers don’t back down over British justice.

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