Solicitors in Cheshire may withdraw from duty work completely, the Gazette has learned, as the thirteenth day of a nationwide boycott against legal aid cuts draws to a close.
Duty solicitors are meeting this evening to discuss action after receiving apparent confirmation that the Public Defender Service (PDS) had picked up a case in Chester.
Meanwhile, it is believed the PDS has withdrawn from Nottingham Bridewell after local firms threatened to withdraw from all duty cover.
The Ministry of Justice said the PDS had been deployed in a ‘small number of cases since action began - a fraction of the total number of cases out there’.
Elsewhere, according to data seen by the Gazette, a police station detainee was told to ask for a particular firm of solicitors by police as they knew it was not taking direct action.
The MoJ rebutted suggestions that cases were not being offered to duty solicitors first.
A spokesperson for the ministry said: ‘The Duty Solicitor Call Centre [has] always followed set procedures. A case is offered to the duty solicitor in the first instance. If a solicitor is not available, we may offer the case to other solicitors.’
A Transforming Summary Justice event on ‘defence engagement’, which was due to be held at Chester Magistrates’ Court today, was cancelled. The event was a joint initiative between the Crown Prosecution Service, HM Courts & Tribunals Service, Merseyside Police and Cheshire Constabulary.
A notice sent to solicitors stated that ‘no defence advocates in Cheshire have indicated a wish to attend’. The notice also stated that no defence advocates attended a similar event at the QEII Law Courts in Liverpool on 2 July.
In a separate development, practitioner groups have written to the Legal Aid Agency refusing to attend a monthly meeting with the body because of what they claim is ‘contemptuous’ behaviour by the agency and the lord chancellor.
The letter, from London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association Jon Black (pictured) and Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association chair Bill Waddington, states: ‘Since the advent of criminal contracting over a decade ago, the LCCSA and CLSA have continuously attended Criminal Contracting Consultative Group meetings and engaged in other similar programmes in order to assist with the constant stream of reform and transformation.
‘Our representatives give up fee-earning time to meet with you and your colleagues… We don’t expect payment, but we do expect goodwill. That goodwill has expired as a result of the trust that had been eroded by recent events and misleading information.’
The letter alleges that ‘the manner in which the LAA and lord chancellor have behaved towards one side of the profession can only be described as contemptuous’.