Courts faced serious disruption this morning as lawyers took unprecedented action in protest over the government’s planned cuts to criminal legal aid.
Criminal solicitors and barristers said they would not attend court until 2pm to voice their opposition to the Ministry of Justice’s proposals to cut publicly funded fee rates, in some cases by over 30%.
The action, which the Criminal Bar Association predicted would be taken by thousands of lawyers, affects both Crown and magistrates’ court cases, with many solicitors deciding to represent only vulnerable clients.
A demonstration, organised by the Justice Alliance, took place outside Westminster Magistrates' Court at 9.30am, followed by training events around the country.
An event organised by the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association and the Criminal Law Solicitors Association at Islington Assembly from 11.15am to 12.45pm is supported by the Law Society, whose head of legal aid Richard Miller, will address it.
Outside London, criminal law groups predicted the areas most affected will be Liverpool, Hull, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.
LCCSA’s president Nicola Hill said last week: ‘Monday will be a demonstration of how courts will look if these devastating proposals are implemented.
‘It will be a glimpse into the future for both the government and the public where there’ll be a pitiful lack of criminal defence solicitors who can offer rigorous, high standard representation.’
She said solicitors do not take the action lightly, but said: ‘Three hours’ court disruption is a price worth paying if we can avoid letting our clients down long-term.’
CBA chair Nigel Lithman QC said: ‘A line has to be drawn in the sand before it’s too late. The cuts pose the most serious threat to the British legal system in more than 400 years.’
Janis Sharp, the mother of Gary McKinnon, who fought successfully to stop her son being extradited to the US on hacking charges, said without legal aid solicitors her son would have taken his own life.
Sharp warned: ‘Cuts to criminal legal aid would affect generations to come - your children and your grandchildren - and no one knows when their family might need it.’
Asked about the contingency plans to minimise disruption to cases, a spokesman for Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service said: ‘It [Monday morning] is being treated as a normal working day. Listing is a judicial issue.’