The Criminal Bar Association has decided not to call direct action in opposition to the government’s planned dual legal aid contracts and fee cuts.
In a statement today the CBA said that it ‘understands the difficulty solicitors face’ and notes that solicitors are balloting on fee cuts. 'In these circumstances we will not call for barristers to forgo work in opposition to the scheme.’
The statement comes after the Ministry of Justice announced last week it was pressing ahead with legal aid cuts for litigation fees, but not for advocacy work.
When the CBA called for direct action in May, which criminal barristers voted overwhelmingly in favour of, its main concern was the duty provider scheme.
‘Our initial discussion with the new government and the MoJ since the election mean we believe there is now a real opportunity to secure long-term improvements in the quality of Crown court advocacy and to ensure a sustainable future for the junior bar and thus the future of the profession,’ the CBA said.
However the association said it was aware of the ‘deep concerns’ from many of its members, and what they expect the CBA to achieve in negotiation with the government.
‘The executive remains of the view that significant reforms need to be made to protect the interests of the public, which are best served through the provision of high-quality advocacy and the CBA will take whateve action is necessary to secure this goal.’
The London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association said it was ‘bitterly disappointed but not surprised that the bar leadership appear to have once again bought the government’s attempt to divide and rule’.
LCCSA president Jonathan Black said: ‘We have always been concerned about negotiations to protect the Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme at the expense of solicitors’ fees over the last few months, and this has always been denied.
‘We have spoken to young barristers the length and breadth of the country concerned about the consequences of dual contracting and the second fee cut, a greater threat to the independent bar than solicitor advocacy itself.
‘However the CBA leadership appear to ignore these concerns, any democratic process and any call for unity.’
Black added: ‘We urge all solicitors to express their view on the ballot, at least we will listen and not ignore the views of our members’ concerns about access to justice.’
The Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association said the CBA’s announcement was ‘hugely disappointing’ but ‘in view of recent history, we are not in the slightest bit surprised at this turnaround’.
CLSA chair Bill Waddington said: ‘Solicitors are capable of battling on without the bar although we think many barristers will continue to give their full support to us in this battle.
‘Clearly [CBA chair Tony Cross] will have some explaining to do to those of his members who voted for no returns.’
He added: ‘Our members’ ballot is all about fighting the January cuts, the imposition of two tier [contracts] and preserving access to justice.’
Black and Waddington have also written an open letter to the CBA chair.
They write: ‘We have previously made it clear to you and we wish to emphasise that our ballot is in relation to stopping the second cut, the duty contract scheme and the third cut which will follow in January if the duty contracts commence.
‘Unless you know something we do not, the aforementioned process will be a disaster for us all.
‘It is unfortunate that you did not continue with the open dialogue we have put in place with the best interests of both sides of the profession in mind.’