The nationwide boycott over the government’s legal aid cuts gathered momentum today as criminal barristers officially joined solicitors in their protest.
Thousands of solicitors have been boycotting new legal aid work since 1 July – when a second 8.75% fee cut was introduced. Today they were joined officially by members of the Criminal Bar Association, who are refusing to take on new work and have adopted ‘no returns’.
Solicitors have also ramped up social media efforts in a bid to spread awareness of the action to a wider audience. Hashtags #legalaidhero and #notafatcat were created today for solicitors to use on Twitter in a bid to show that ‘criminal lawyers have a human face’.
According to the website legalaidhero.wordpress.com, the #legalaidhero hashtag was established to highlight ‘the everyday things that are done by criminal lawyers that are just part of our jobs but that actually make a huge difference’. A #notafatcat hashtag is being run simultaneously to dispel myths about lawyers’ earnings.
@northern_brief tweeted a picture of her colleague @joannekftang - who she described as a legal aid hero - holding a picture that said: ‘I was 24-hour duty solicitor all weekend and hardly saw my two young children. I worked out that my hourly rate was £2.55 ! ! ! I am #notafatcat I am a #legalaidhero.’
Colin Monehen (@CMonehen) tweeted that ‘all solicitors have made sacrifices, this is the one I regret the most’. His tweet was accompanied with a picture of his son and the words ‘I will never forget that my dad missed taking me to Wembley to help someone in a police station’.
Meanwhile, the CBA executive is holding an emergency meeting this evening to discuss the action after practitioner groups issued a new protocol last week that will allow solicitors to do more police station and magistrates’ court work and, in effect, restricting the boycott to Crown court work.
The protocol was issued by the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association and Big Firms Group.
Franklin Sinclair, senior partner of Tuckers, a key member of the BFG, tweeted this afternoon that the group had ‘decided overwhelmingly’ to adopt the new protocol and continue action ‘until the 1st July cut is withdrawn’. The 37 members of the BFG carry out around 25% of criminal legal aid work.
The LCCSA, CLSA and BFG met justice secretary Michael Gove on Thursday.
LCCSA president Jonathan Black and CLSA vice-chair Robin Murray said Gove ‘will continue to engage and consider any ideas as to budgetary savings, detailed proposals for viable alternatives to [two-tier contracts] and simultaneously [the MoJ will] invite suggestions for improving the two-tier details’. Fee cuts were ‘the subject of ongoing discussions’.
Update 2100 (Monday): The CBA has decided to continue action to support solicitors. It said it would ’continue to work closely with solicitors and listen to our membership who are making considerable personal sacrifices in order to protect the public interest’.
The association will monitor the impact of the action and ‘review matters on a weekly basis’, it said.