Practitioner groups today defended their decision to suspend nationwide action against the government’s legal aid cuts after shocked solicitors expressed their outrage on public forums.
The Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association said they ‘firmly’ believed the time was right to suspend the action ‘as a gesture of goodwill and recognising the importance of this engagement [with the MoJ]’, in an announcement on Friday.
The decision did not go down well with some solicitors. One practitioner tweeted: ‘What do you do when you have your foot on the neck of someone who is finally beginning to listen? Take it off. Apparently it’s a “tactic”.’
LCCSA president Jonathan Black (pictured) said if he had been a member ‘supporting the action to protect the future of my firm, my staff and their family, I would have certainly expressed my reaction in strong terms. I don’t blame anyone for doing so, it is this strength of feeling which has got us this far and takes us to the next stage’.
CLSA vice-chair Robin Murray believed the group had given justice secretary Michael Gove ‘the chance to make good his assurances that he would treat our proposals for savings seriously and we believe he and the Ministry of Justice are doing so’.
Gove was expected to have been briefed last week on four ‘alternative savings’ to the second 8.75% fee cut that was introduced on 1 July – prompting solicitors to boycott legal aid work under the new rate.
Murray would not comment on what the groups would do should talks with the ministry fail ‘as that is not within the spirit of the moment’.
But he said the profession ‘will harden in their resolve the nearer we get to implementation of unnecessary cuts and an unworkable two-tier [legal aid contract] system and we will harness that anger if we have to’.
The associations are consulting members on whether they would be willing to withdraw bids for the government’s new legal aid contracts to provide 24-hour cover at police stations. The deadline for responses is Friday.