Criminal defence practitioners will be invited to refuse work at 'derisory’ rates following the Ministry of Justice’s decision this week to press ahead with controversial legal aid reforms.
In a joint message posted on their websites last night, Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association chairman Bill Waddington and London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association president Jonathan Black said the profession 'must stand up and fight for justice or it and we will be swept away’.
On Wednesday legal aid minister Shailesh Vara confirmed in a ministerial statement that a second fee cut of 8.75% for solicitors representing those accused will be introduced from 1 July; and the number of contracts for solicitors providing 24-hour cover at police stations will be reduced from 1,600 to 527.
Vara said advocacy fees would not be reduced ‘at this stage’.
An independent review will commence in July 2016 to assess the impact of the fee cuts and dual contracting model.
The practitioner groups said last night they will be holding a ballot - expected to be up and running within the next 24-48 hours - inviting solicitors 'to refuse work at the derisory rates as no one can properly discharge their professional obligations at those levels’.
Waddington and Black said: 'It is now or never. It is the only language the MoJ understands. Unite or die.’
The criminal bar has also been invited to ‘renew their fight following their overwhelming vote in favour of action recently’ and take part in the ballot.
Immediately after the MoJ’s announcement Criminal Bar Association chair Tony Cross said the executive of the CBA would be discussing its response 'at the earliest opportunity’, including further consultation with its members.
Waddington (pictured) and Black said Vara’s statement 'fails to take into account that legal aid lawyers have not had any increase in pay rates for nearly 20 years. What other sector has been neglected for so long? Pious hypocrisy expressed over Magna Carta and human rights are worthless verbiage when the people are denied expert advice to give meaning to them.
'We have had enough. Lawyers are by instinct and practice conservative in approach and slow to anger. But we have been pushed too far.
‘The government’s refusal to honour their promise to hold a review prior to further cuts is a betrayal of the people. To hold a review after the cuts have been brought in is not a review but a body count after the train crash’.
An MoJ spokesperson pointed out that Vara had said in his Wednesday statement: 'Although the transition will be challenging, the changes we are pressing ahead with today are designed to ensure that we have a system of criminal legal aid that delivers value for money to taxpayers, that provides high-quality legal advice to those that need it most, and that puts the profession on a sustainable footing for the long term.'