Legal aid lawyers specialising in criminal work could set up a trade union that would enable them to undertake full-blown strike action over government funding, the Gazette has learned.

Firm owners holding crime contracts met yesterday to discuss next steps should the government’s full response to the Bellamy review fail to provide a fair deal for solicitors. The government response is expected to be published towards the end of this month.

Solicitors have seen long-running strike action by their criminal bar colleagues see the Ministry of Justice, under Brandon Lewis, offer a revised deal. Lewis’s successor, Dominic Raab, took a less conciliatory approach during his first stint as lord chancellor, accusing the criminal bar of ‘holding justice to ransom’ and refusing to meet criminal bar chiefs.

The Criminal Law Solicitors Association announced at yesterday’s meeting of crime contract holders that it is commissioning advice from counsel on forming a union for legal aid lawyers.

The association told the Gazette: ‘The CLSA has announced that following agreement reached amongst committee we have decided to commission advice on the legal position and practical options for the unionisation for criminal legal aid lawyers. Our members understand from recent events that only industrial action appears to be successful in securing much needed investment and as we look to the future and a sustainable profession, all options must be available to our members to take decisive action.’

Unable to 'strike' due to their contractual obligations, solicitors have instead been boycotting poorly paid work such as burglary cases.

At a joint conference of the CLSA and London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association last month, former Criminal Bar Association secretary Lucie Wibberley suggested solicitors instruct a commercial silk to review their ‘unfair’ government contract and unionise en masse.

The Law Society, the main representative body for solicitors but not a trade union, has already warned that should the government’s response to the Bellamy review be unsatisfactory, members will be advised to shun criminal defence work.


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