Criminal barristers have recently voted overwhelmingly in favour of mass walkouts in protest against government spending cuts to legal aid. The decision was agreed after the Criminal Bar Association asked its 4000 members whether they supported action, should the government decide to reduce the number of legal aid solicitor firms by two-thirds. This is not the first time that the legal profession and the Government have disagreed over legal aid funding however, and merely represents the latest breakdown in communication between the institutions.
The mass walkouts have come about in protest of the Ministry of Justice’s plans to restructure the duty solicitor contract scheme for attending police stations and magistrates courts. It is believed that the reforms, aimed at reducing the number of contracts by two-thirds, will have significant ramifications on legal jobs and many criminal barristers could eventually find themselves out of work.
In response to Government plans, the Criminal Bar Association chair Tony Cross QC said: ‘No barrister wishes to withhold his or her labour. It is a measure of the extreme nature of our concern that so many of our members are contemplating such action.
‘The proposed changes have no sensible economic foundation and will lead to irreversible damage to the criminal justice system. The proposed scheme will reduce competition, stifle innovation and paralyse the market as it becomes closed to new entrants’.
The planned walkouts come just over a year after a deal was agreed with the previous Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, against making substantial cuts to the criminal legal aid system; a deal that the Criminal Bar Association described, at the time, as a ‘breakthrough’.
Despite the widespread criticism of a reduction in spending, the Ministry of Justice has repeatedly defended cuts to legal aid on the grounds that savings had to be made after it was established that the UK has one of the largest legal aid bills in the EU. It remains to be seen whether the latest course of action against Government plans will have any long-term effect.
If you or a loved one have been arrested, it is important that you seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity. At Seatons, our team of legal professionals have a wealth of experience representing clients in police interviews and provide clear, easy to understand legal advice at low sensible fees. For more information, feel free to give us a call on 01536 276300.