Practitioner groups have issued a new protocol for solicitors taking part in a nationwide boycott of new legal aid work that will allow them to do more police station and magistrates’ court work.
The protocol, issued by the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association and Big Firms Group (BFG), comes into effect tomorrow.
It states: ‘Over the time that this dispute continues, the new protocol will enable us to return to lower crime work to maintain firms’ cashflow, which covers staff wages and will ensure that their clients are not misappropriated by the few firms who dishonour the profession by intentionally flouting the protocol and poaching clients in breach of [Solicitors Regulation Authority] rules.
‘That does not mean that the reduced fees for lower crime are acceptable, but merely that the protest is more targeted on Crown court work.’
Adam Makepeace, practice director at Tuckers, a key member of the BFG, said the new protocol was a ‘refocusing of the scope of action in order to be sustainable for the longer term’.
Makepeace said the action was brought with the intention to try to reverse the 8.75% fee cut that was introduced on 1 July.
‘If the action fails because people cannot sustain it financially… it does not achieve our goal. Given we know we have to sustain it for longer, the action has to be formulated in a way that firms can sustain it for longer. It’s a change of tactics to a desired goal.’
Makepeace predicted that action could spread to areas where firms were unable to take part originally over fears some firms in their area would seek to take commercial advantage.
However, the practitioner groups said those individuals who wished to continue not covering any lower work, ‘then we are content to see that happen’.
The CLSA, LCCSA and BFG met with justice secretary Michael Gove earlier today at the Ministry of Justice’s headquarters in London.
LCCSA president Jonathan Black and CLSA vice-chair Robin Murray said Gove ‘will continue to engage and consider any ideas as to budgetary savings, detailed proposals for viable alternatives to [two-tier contracts] and simultaneously [the MoJ] invite suggestions for improving the two-tier details’. Fee cuts were 'the subject of ongoing discussions'.
The Criminal Bar Association did not attend the meeting ‘due to a genuine misunderstanding’, Black and Murray said.
Update 0930 Friday:
The Criminal Bar Association will hold an emergency meeting on Monday to consider what its chairman called 'a major change of position' by solicitors.
A message from CBA chairman Tony Cross this morning said the protocol, which he said the CBA had no input into, ‘marks a major change of position by our solicitor colleagues, and appears to alter fundamentally the basis upon which our members voted to support solicitors’ action’.
Earlier this month, members of the criminal bar voted in favour of no new work and ‘no returns’ to support solicitors’ action.
The executive committee recommended the action begin on Monday. But Cross said the committee will now reconvene for an emergency meeting on Monday ‘to consider the effect of the new situation’.
‘Meanwhile, everyone is reminded that the decision whether to take or continue action in support of the solicitors remains a matter of individual choice,’ he said.
Cross added that ‘there was no question of the CBA staying away’ or ‘being snubbed’ from yesterday’s meeting between the solicitors’ groups and justice secretary Michael Gove.
‘This was a meeting arranged at the request of the solicitors and to which the CBA was not invited,’ he said. ‘The purpose of the meeting was to enable the solicitors’ organisations to discuss their concerns with the lord chancellor in the manner they saw fit.’