Criminal solicitors voted overwhelmingly in favour of individual direct action over the government’s legal aid cuts, practitioner groups said today, the second day of nationwide protests against new contracts and fee cuts.
The Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA), which has 1,100 members, and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA), which has 750 members, opened a ballot on 13 June asking members to refuse work under the new ‘derisory’ rates following yesterday’s introduction of a second 8.75% fee cut. The ballot closed on Monday.
Of 1,163 solicitors who responded, 1,056 voted in favour of action.
The results of the ballot, which was open to other members of the profession, also show that 400 of 402 members of the independent bar voted in favour of action, as did all 22 legal executives who responded, 152 paralegals and 23 employed barristers.
They join lawyers across the country - including Merseyside, London, Kent, Devon, Manchester, Leeds, Halifax, Derby, Birmingham, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Sunderland, Newcastle, Reading, Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Bradford and Hull - who voted in favour of action.
CLSA chair Bill Waddington (pictured) said in today’s results announcement that the government ‘has refused to listen to our concerns and alternative proposals’. The practitioner groups, he said, had written to lord chancellor Michael Gove three times in the last fortnight, but not received a response, ‘forcing us to take extraordinary steps’.
Since yesterday, lawyers have refused to take on legal aid work under the new rates. The Ministry of Justice last night described the impact as 'negligible'.
LCCSA president Jonathan Black told the Gazette that the practitioner groups ‘have always been reluctant to take action to the extent that vulnerable clients in police custody were left unrepresented’.
He said: ‘We are at breaking point and we can’t let the government exploit our fear of abandoning the vulnerable and dispossessed when, in fact, it is so we can defend and protect these very same people properly in the future that we are, as individual firms, resorting to such a stance.’
The results of the ballot were revealed hours after Black, Waddington, former LCCSA president Paul Harris and CLSA vice-chair Robin Murray received a special award for their campaigning efforts at the Legal Aid Practitioner Group’s Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards.
The other winners, presented with trophies by Lord Justice McFarlane at a ceremony in London, were:
Legal aid newcomer: Connor Johnston, Garden Court Chambers
Social and welfare lawyer: Jo Renshaw, Turpin & Miller
Family legal aid lawyer: Sarah Cove, Miles & Partners
Family mediator: Margaret Pendlebury, MiD Mediation
Legal aid barrister: Alison Pickup, Doughty Street
Housing lawyer: Jayesh Kunwardia, Hodge Jones & Allen
Children’s rights lawyer: Noel Arnold, Coram Children’s Legal Centre
Public law lawyer: Marcia Willis-Stewart, Birnberg Peirce
Criminal defence lawyer: Mark Ashford, TV Edwards
Legal aid firm/not-for-profit agency: Central England Law Centre
Access to justice through IT: Courtnav (Royal Courts of Justice and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer)
Outstanding achievement: Public Law Project