Criminal barristers are close to stepping up their action against legal aid cuts by implementing a ‘no returns’ policy in addition to refusing to taking on new work.
The Gazette understands the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) is actively considering encouraging members to implement the policy.
Under no returns, barristers agree not to accept cases that are returned by colleagues who have a diary clash. The policy is intended to demonstrate to the government the impact on the wider criminal justice system when barristers withdraw their ‘goodwill’. However, it could create a further backlog in cases if defendants are left without representation.
The last time barristers undertook a ‘no returns policy’ was 2015.
An informed source told the Gazette ‘no returns’, combined with a refusal to take on new cases, would be ’highly disruptive’.
‘Given new representative orders are only a month old, no returns would have an impact. It would make life tough for those not earning but that’s how strong the bar feels. There’s almost nothing to lose,’ the source said.
Around 100 chambers have been refusing to take on new work since 1 April in protest at changes to the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS), which determines how advocates are remunerated in publicly funded cases.
There are 350 Chambers nationally but not all of those take on criminal cases.
Speaking to the Gazette at Manchester Crown Court, barristers confirmed they were considering escalating their action and that the mood was shifting in favour of no returns. One local solicitor said the start of a no returns policy could derail a murder trial she is currently acting in in which there is a diary clash.
In Manchester an upcoming murder trial is scheduled for the coming weeks where no counsel is available for a defendant and the solicitor is being encouraged to use the Public Defender Service.