Criminal barristers are expected to announce direct action this week against what they say is the latest round of government cuts to the legal aid budget.
The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said it will update members on Thursday on the results of a survey it sent to them asking whether they wanted to take action. CBA chair Angela Rafferty said this morning that the signs are that ‘there will be overwhelming support for unified action’.
Legal aid solicitors are understood to be working with the CBA to determine whether they too should take action, which could include refusing publicly funded new work.
The protest is against the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) proposal to reform the Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS), which determines how legal aid advocates are remunerated.
Despite a government impact assessment claiming the changes would increase legal aid spending by an additional £9 million per year both the Bar Council and the CBA say the reforms amount to a £2m cut.
The Litigators Graduated Fee Scheme (LGFS) – which determines legal aid fees paid to solicitors – was cut in October last year.
The CBA said the scheme structure may be rational but the levels of remuneration are unacceptable for many kinds of complex, important cases. ‘There is no payment at all for disclosure or the vast quantities of evidence likely to be served on us in cases going forward,’ the CBA said, adding that a consequence may be to require the defence in all cases to become ’gatekeepers for disclosure’. ’This is untenable, and, ultimately, if the law is not applied correctly, illegal,’ it added.
The CBA also revealed it is appealing for funds through the CrowdJustice website to provide every MP with a copy of ‘Stories of the Law and How it’s Broken’, by an anonymous author ‘The Secret Barrister’, as well as a copy of the Young Legal Aid Lawyers Report on Social Mobility.
Rafferty added: ‘We will on Thursday set out for you our considered position on the type of action required. It is a matter for each individual barrister to decide what to do. We ask for unity and purpose at this time whatever you decide to do.’
She added that she supported sets including London’s Garden Court Chambers, which has already announced it is boycotting new publicly funded work as of 1 April. According to a Twitter post this weekend, members at One Pump Court have also voted in favour of action.
’Our principal responsibility is to ensure our profession survives and thrives. The threats to the criminal justice system are common knowledge and cannot continue,’ Rafferty added.
The London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association, with the support of the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association and CBA, has drawn up a 'Charter For Justice', designed to encapsulate key principles that practitioners can unite behind and campaign for. The charter will be unveiled at the Law Society tonight. More than 150 people are expected to attend.