The government could face a summer of chaos in the courts as the criminal bar prepares to escalate action over criminal legal aid.
Since 11 April hundreds of barristers have adopted a policy of ‘no returns’. This involves withdrawing a longstanding gesture of goodwill in which they covered for colleagues on cases that have been ‘returned’ because the courts may have overrun, or the case has been rescheduled at the last minute and caused a diary clash.
In his Monday message today, Criminal Bar Association chair Jo Sidhu QC said several members have signalled their ‘willingness and desire to adopt more disruptive forms of action in conjunction with the current strategy’ over the government's response to Sir Christopher Bellamy's criminal legal aid recommendations.
Sidhu said: ‘Over the coming weeks, we will therefore be seeking your views on whether our current action should be escalated. Zoom meetings will be organised for those below and above 7 years’ call respectively, to afford all our members the opportunity to express their opinions on whether, and which, additional options should be pursued. These questions will also be addressed at our next scheduled meeting with the heads of chambers and circuit leaders on 9 June. Please therefore ensure that you communicate your views to them in advance of that date so that we obtain the widest possible input from the criminal bar.
‘Subject to the feedback we receive from all quarters, we propose to hold a further ballot later in June to determine what, if any, additional action should be pursued.’
Sidhu did not reveal what the ‘additional action’ might look like. However, he highlighted previous occasions over the last decade when members voted to decline new instructions and undertake ‘days of action’.
Meanwhile, London criminal defence solicitors are preparing to cause disruption by refusing to take on low-paid work, starting with burglary cases. Their action will begin on Wednesday.