Garden Court Chambers has become the first bar set to announce direct action against government cuts, announcing it will not be carrying out any publicly funded criminal work from next month.
In a statement today Garden Court said that ‘the future of the publicly funded criminal bar is at stake’. The chambers will also be operating a ‘no returns’ policy.
‘We call on all our colleagues at the criminal bar to join us. We emphasise that we are all members of the Criminal Bar Association and are fully supportive of the organisation,’ it said.
The development heralds the first direct action on cuts since the ‘no new work and no returns’ protests of 2014 and 2015.
The CBA is also surveying members on whether there should be ‘action for justice’. A survey has been sent to the circuit leaders and all heads of chambers.
Legal aid solicitors are understood to be considering joining the action.
The CBA’s move comes after it emerged the House of Lords’ secondary legislation scrutiny committee had written to the Ministry of Justice seeking clarification on the revised Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS). A government impact assessment claimed the changes would increase legal aid spending by an additional £9m per year but the Bar Council and the CBA say the reforms actually amount to a £2m cut.
In an open letter to the MoJ, Garden Court Chambers said the criminal justice system has been ‘decimated by more than a decade of cuts’.
‘Criminal solicitors are at crisis point and face further swingeing cuts to legal aid litigation fees,’ it added.
‘We believe that the publicly funded bar is at threat like never before and that the criminal justice system is crumbling around us. Every week brings news of another criminal trial collapsing due to lack of adequate resources.’
The set has called on the MoJ to;
. Invest ‘wholesale’ in the criminal justice system;
. Rethink the AGFS scheme and publish all of their modelling which allows them to say the scheme is ’cost neutral’;
. Index link fees so that they rise with inflation rather than amounting to a year-on-year cut.