The Public Defender Service has deployed silks at what are normally junior level trials at the Crown court on at least two occasions in response to the direct action taken by barristers across against legal aid cuts, the Gazette has learned.
In one trial at Nottingham this week, Greg Bull QC, who is listed as an employee of the PDS, covered a three-day unarmed robbery trial in the Crown court. Alun Jenkins QC, also listed as an employee, defended at a one-day burglary trial. The Gazette understands that both silks had to be brought in to ensure the trials did not collapse because of the lack of defence counsel.
News about the use of QCs to cover work that would normally be handled by junior barristers prompted anger from lawyers.
One barrister told the Gazette that it was a ‘complete waste’ of public money to employ silks to cover these kinds of trials. Normally a QC would never be involved in cases at this level, he said.
A Public Defender Service spokesperson said: ’The PDS has an important role in safeguarding access to justice and our advocates have been able to offer clients representation which has been accepted. There is no additional cost to the taxpayer.’
The use of silks in these cases is the latest sign of the impact of direct action since barristers joined the nationwide boycott of work in protest at the government’s legal aid cuts.
The PDS first started to deploy lawyers to pick up cases impacted by direct action when solicitors began to refuse legal aid work on 1 July when the 8.75% cut to fees came into effect. At the time the Legal Aid Agency said that the PDS was picking up a ‘small number of cases’.