The chairman of the Criminal Bar Association met justice secretary Chris Grayling and justice minister Shailesh Vara late last week to discuss the impact of legal aid cuts on criminal barristers.
In a note to his members, Nigel Lithman QC (pictured) said Grayling insisted that the fee cuts of up to 30% in some cases are ‘writ in stone’.
Lithman said Grayling told him the Ministry of Justice needs to make £35m of ‘cashable savings’.
The bar leader told Grayling to stop presenting ‘misinformation’ on the earnings of the criminal bar to the press and public, and suggested that savings should not come from cutting legal aid rates.
Meanwhile, groups representing barristers and criminal solicitors will meet again this week to discuss next steps following the half-day protest on 6 January.
Parties involved include The CBA, some circuit leaders, the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA), the London Criminal Courts’ Solicitors Association and the Legal Aid Practitioners Group.
CLSA chair Bill Waddington said the meetings are intended to discuss ‘ongoing tactics’.
There is likely to be a second protest, which could be for a full day, he added. The date for the action has yet to be fixed but Waddington said it will be after the government has responded to the consultation, which is likely to happen at the end of this month or early February.
At a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on legal aid, Vara said the government response to the ‘Next Steps’ consultation, which was originally expected before Christmas, would be published in the ‘near future’.
Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson said: 'We are continuing to work closely with the practitioner groups - most recently over the commissioning and publication of the Oxford Economics report.
'As we said on 6 January, we understand why some of our members feel driven to take the action they have. We are seeking to arrange another meeting for the practitioner groups with Chris Grayling so we can all jointly hear his current views and let him know ours. We are maintaining our pressure on the government so as to fight the cuts.'
In an article for today’s Gazette Daily Update, meanwhile, Hudson stresses that independent studies jointly commissioned by the Society and MoJ must form the basis for duty contracts. Otterburn Legal Consulting and KPMG are looking at the practicalities of the plans as well as issues concerning rural provision and the maximum possible number of duty contracts compatible with long-term financial stability.
He says: ‘We have always been clear – and can reaffirm today – that if the reports suggest the plans pose an unacceptable risk of market failure the Society on behalf of its members cannot support the proposals.’