Lawyers could again take direct action to fight criminal legal aid cuts following yesterday’s Vote for Justice rally at Westminster.
Robin Murray (pictured), vice-chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, said the association will ‘urgently consider’ what it could do ‘in terms of disruption to defend access to justice’.
He said: ‘It may well be necessary to urgently consult on the cuts to legal aid or hold training days which may unfortunately clash with court appearances.
‘This is something that will be discussed with the profession.’
Murray also said the CLSA would support the bar should it decide to take direct action.
The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers said justice secretary Chris Grayling could only be persuaded to back down on the dual-contract reforms and tendering process ‘by a return to direct action by the whole profession, in unity with court staff and others to close down the court system for longer periods over the coming weeks and months.’
It said: ‘Last year the policy of no returns and withdrawals of labour brought the government back to the bargaining table.
‘Neither the bar nor solicitors can fight this battle on its own. If our professions do not fight together, we will die together.’
The society encouraged the Criminal Bar Association, the London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association and CLSA to return to no returns and then to a full-scale strike. ‘Only with that can we survive,’ it said.
Under the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme, only the instructed advocate can make a claim for payment. A ‘return’ is any instruction to appear on any hearing on any defence case in the Crown court where there is a representation order in force in which another member of the bar is nominated as the instructed advocate.
In March 2014 criminal barristers called off further direct action over legal aid reforms after Grayling postponed a planned (average) 6% cut to fees paid to advocates in Crown court cases under the AGFS until at least this summer.
The Ministry of Justice has said the government inherited an unprecedented financial crisis, which meant the ministry had no choice but to find significant savings in everything it did.
The reforms were designed ‘to help make the legal aid system more sustainable while ensuring anyone suspected of a crime has access to a legally aided lawyer of their choosing, just as they do now’.
Meanwhile the LCCSA has created a legal aid pledge, backed by the CLSA, which it wants parliamentary candidates to sign.