Solicitors and practitioner groups are mulling how to back the criminal bar’s protest action against legal aid fee reforms.
The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has advised its 4,000 members to adopt a ‘no returns’ policy from 25 May. It would start to take effect in courts after the late-May bank holiday.
The Gazette understands that the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association are considering ways to support the bar’s action and will discuss strategy with the CBA before 25 May. There is also the possibility of CBA members instigating a ‘walk-out day’ in June, though details of that have yet to be confirmed.
More than 100 chambers have refused to take new cases since 1 April, in protest against changes to the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS), under which legal aid payments are calculated.
The CBA announced its intention to escalate action the day after a motion brought by shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon MP calling for the revocation of the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 was defeated in the House of Commons by 300 votes to 252. The new AGFS scheme was passed under a negative procedure statutory instrument (SI) on 23 February. Such SIs become law without debate, unless they are challenged.
During the debate justice minister Lucy Frazer QC MP said the scheme was devised in ‘close co-operation with the bar leadership’, does not bring in a cut, and is more advantageous to the bar than the one it replaces, particularly for junior practitioners. She added that the government has given a clear commitment to review the reform in 18 to 24 months.
Angela Rafferty QC, chair of the CBA, said: ‘We now consider it is necessary to escalate this action in order to show that we really have reached breaking point… We still seek a resolution and will actively take part in all efforts to bring this situation to an end.’