Criminal barristers have been set a deadline of a week on Tuesday to say whether they would be prepared to take direct action if the new government proceeds with the new duty provider scheme. 

A message from Tony Cross QC (pictured), chair of the Criminal Bar Association says that the proposals, if implemented by the new government, ‘will damage deeply access to justice and deal a colossal blow to the self-employed bar’.

Cross said many dedicated solicitors would lose their jobs as a result of two-tier contracts and many already had.

'In their place will be unqualified paralegals, with no prospect of a training contract, or solicitors who, struggling to find alternative employment, are re-engaged on much reduced salaries, or better still, freelancers on zero-hours contracts.

'Training contracts will disappear, standards will inevitably plummet because the dedicated professionals who have sustained our system will have gone or be overwhelmed.'

Cross said the business modelling which firms have now undertaken 'anticipates that new income streams from advocacy must be part of what comes next', with the imperative of 'securing a slice of the advocacy fee' becoming a necessary part of the new model.

'At present firms still need to protect their reputations by instructing barristers for a significant proportion of their advocacy in the Crown court. We are the specialist advocates and under current arrangements there remains a significant market for our services.

'However, once the market is "fixed" these considerations will no longer apply in the same way, and once a much larger share of the work is guaranteed, much more of the advocacy can be taken in-house, and much of the remainder will go to freelance advocates who pay a 30% management fee (sometimes more) back to the firm.

'This is the rational commercial reality that [the duty provider scheme] will enshrine. Justice for all will suffer.'

The CBA asks association members to say: ‘Would you support action: “no returns” and “days of action” if the new government decides to proceed with the duty provider scheme, reducing the number of solicitor providers by at least two-thirds?’  

The closing deadline is 5.00pm on Tuesday 19 May.

‘We will of course do everything we can to continue work with solicitors wherever we can and we expect that the vast majority of solicitors will support us should you decide to take action,’ Cross says.