Senior judges on the Northern Circuit have warned lawyers against using robing rooms in courts to discuss the ‘future of the profession’, after a spate of meetings held to debate whether solicitors and barristers should take direct action in the face of legal aid cuts. HM Courts & Tribunals Service has confirmed to the Gazette that the ban is official policy.
A notice sent to lawyers on the circuit today said that presiding judges have been made aware that robing rooms in Liverpool and Manchester have been used to ‘debate the future of the profession’.
It warns that the robing rooms should ‘not be made available for any purpose other than for facilitating the business of advocacy’.
Meanwhile, a practitioners' meeting in Norwich was held in the open air after courts staff barred it from Norwich Magistrates' Court.
Rob Pollington, an assistant solicitor at Breydon Solicitors who was present at the meeting, said court staff had received a call informing them that no meeting could take place in the court.
Senior officials at the court warned the group that it would be thrown out if the meeting was held in the court canteen, and security was placed on standby to remove lawyers if the meeting took place in the court building.
News about meetings being banned in court buildings caused outrage among lawyers.
Barrister Gerard McDermott QC of Outer Temple Chambers said: ‘The robing room is very special to the bar and this is not a good step to take.’
Others criticised judges for not showing support for the situation lawyers were facing.
Pollington said that it was ‘bitterly disappointing’ not to have the backing of the court. ‘We are very much on our own,’ he said.
A spokesperson for HM Courts & Tribunals Service said: 'In line with usual practice, we are not allowing lawyers to hold meetings on court premises to discuss how best to disrupt the work of the court. This is not an appropriate use of court facilities.'