Over the past few weeks fed-up criminal practitioners have tweeted photos and court anecdotes to show 'the law is broken'. The criminal bar has been declining to accept work with a representation order dated from 1 April not just in protest against how the government has reformed their Crown court fees but in protest against the state of the justice system generally.
Despite the increasing anger, the Ministry of Justice remained defiant, insisting that it worked closely with bar leaders to design the new advocates' graduated fee scheme (AGFS) and had even injected more cash into it.
But then, a breakthrough. The Criminal Bar Association announced yesterday that it had suspended its call for members to step up their boycott from today. The ministry had shaken its magic money tree and £15m fell out.
The news has surprised many. But it also reinforces fears that the government values barristers more than solicitors. As Richard Miller, the Law Society's head of justice pointed out to MPs this week, the government kept a 10,000-page threshold for pages of prosecution evidence for the AGFS scheme while cutting it to 6,000 for the litigators' equivalent, without giving a reason. The Law Society is having to go to the High Court to show the ministry why the litigators' graduated fee scheme reforms are bad - and also dangerous.
Solicitors have been bearing the brunt of the criminal bar's action - so hats off to Angela Rafferty QC, CBA chair, for urging members not to stand by and let their colleagues be treated unfairly in court. But the criminal bar has a golden opportunity to unite the profession and end the sniping between barristers and solicitors that has already emerged overnight.
A broken justice system cannot be fixed if the profession isn't united. A broken justice system cannot be fixed if one branch of the profession is watered while the other is left to decay. The criminal bar should insist that the government also put an offer in relation to the LGFS scheme on the table otherwise expect to see 'no returns' on 12 June.