A Crown court judge will today be asked to kick out a £4.5m fraud prosecution as the spat between the government and criminal legal aid lawyers escalates.
Solicitors representing eight defendants due to stand trial in April at Southwark Crown Court have been unable to find any barristers willing to take on the case for the new reduced fees.
Lee Adams, partner at London firm Hughmans who represents four of the defendants, will ask His Honour Judge Leonard for the case to be stayed on the basis that the unrepresented defendants would not have a fair trial.
The case was originally classified by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) as a very high cost case (VHCC), but was downgraded to the graduated fees scheme by the LAA after barristers refused to undertake the work following the 30% fee cuts introduced for such cases in December.
The LAA insisted the case had been downgraded after the trial judge decided to split the case into two trials, reducing the time estimate so that neither trial fell within the VHCC regime.
Adams told the Gazette: ‘None of the solicitors has been able to find counsel to take on the case as a de-classified VHCC. I’ve spoken to 60 chambers and a solicitor for one of the co-defendants has spoken to more than that, so we can confidently say no counsel is willing to accept the instruction.’
At an earlier hearing, Judge Leonard declined to postpone the trial after being informed that counsel could not be found. On that occasion he warned the defendants that they may have to represent themselves, telling them they should be ready for trial however much it will cost the taxpayer.
The case – R v Crawley & Others – is the first to be prosecuted by the Financial Conduct Authority.
The defendants, including a solicitor, Dale Walker of Sevenoaks in Kent, have been charged with fraud and other financial crimes dating back to 2008.
The other seven - Scott Crawley, Daniel Forsyth, Ross Peters, Aaron Petrou, Ricky Mitchie, Adam Hawkins and Brendan Daley – are charged with conspiracy to defraud. Forsyth has also been charged with providing false information. All deny the charges.