The chairman of the Criminal Bar Association has said the body will not decide policy on the basis of ‘self-selecting meetings in two or three robing rooms’ as grassroots meetings across England and Wales agree to refuse work in protest at new criminal legal aid contracts.
Tony Cross said that the association is listening to the wide range of opinions about what action, if any, the criminal bar should take and will review its position once the outcome of a ballot over direct action, held by solicitors practitioner groups, is known.
But he stressed that the criminal bar has a responsibility to ensure that those expressing views against action will be able to be heard with equal respect.
‘The opinions expressed [at these meetings] no doubt reflect the strongly held views of those present, but they may or may not be representative of the full membership, which numbers around 4,000,’ Cross said.
He said that many junior barristers had lost thousands of pounds as a result of the bar's 'no returns' protest last year.
‘These same junior barristers, hugely talented and highly trained, are under unprecedented pressure as briefing decisions are increasingly made on the basis of financial self-interest rather than the best interest of the client,’ he said.
He added: ‘Less-experienced, less-well-trained and less-able advocates are increasingly acting as the junior advocate in the most serious cases. We condemn the proposed cuts. But it is surely no excuse for selling economically disadvantaged clients so very short.’
Executives at the CBA will meet tomorrow evening to discuss the outcome of the solicitors' ballot and the strength of feeling manifested in the meetings held this week.
Cross said he would be communicating with the practitioner groups and each of the 35 firms of the Big Firm Group 'to ask them to set out very clearly their position and for their permission to state their views publicly so as to ensure that the membership of the CBA has a clear and accurate understanding of the matter'.
The CBA came in for widespread criticism after it announced it would not be pursuing direct action over legal aid reforms, which are due to come into force on Wednesday.