A murder case at the Old Bailey has become the first to be affected by the barristers’ boycott of new work over cuts to legal aid.
Kema Salum, 38, appeared for his first Crown court hearing today over the death of his wife Leyla Mtumwa, 36. She had been repeatedly stabbed in the neck and chest at the home they shared in Haringey, London, last Friday.
But no defence barrister was present to represent him in court where Judge Anuja Dhir QC set a timetable for his case and considered bail.
Salum’s solicitor, Seona White, of BSB Solicitors, said she had contacted more than 20 chambers to find a barrister, but none were prepared to take on the case. She said: 'I do not know how long the situation will last with counsel not taking on legal aided work. I hope it would be resolved quickly.’
Last week, criminal barristers announced they would not be taking on any new work from 1 April.
Judge Dhir set a plea hearing for 20 June and a provisional trial for 24 September and remanded the defendant in custody. She told him that despite not having a barrister to speak for him in court, his solicitor had invited her to 'make sure that you are not disadvantaged by that because it is not your fault and it’s not hers either’.
However, until a barrister is found to take on his case, legal advice and preparation of his case could be affected. The Tanzanian national was helped in court by a Swahili-speaking interpreter.
Court proceedings across the country are expected to face more disruption as some lawyers refuse to take on new cases. Doughty Street Chambers, Garden Court Chambers and 25 Bedford Row are among those set to take part in the action.
The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) advised its 4,000 members to take action after 90% voted in favour, with a turnout of around 55%. Barristers are protesting against reforms to the advocates’ graduated fee scheme, which determines how barristers are remunerated in legal aid cases.
The Ministry of Justice says the reforms are cost neutral though both the CBA and Bar Council dispute this.