Criminal practitioner groups have extended a ballot inviting solicitors to refuse work in protest against cuts to legal aid to give solicitors and barristers more time to respond following the bar's decision to drop plans for direct action.

The Criminal Bar Association said in a statement on Thursday that ‘it understands the difficulty solicitors face’ after the government decided to pursue plans to cut fees for litigators, but would ‘not call for barristers to forgo work in opposition to the [duty provider] scheme’.

In response the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA) and London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) have extended their joint ballot on direct action, which was due to close at 9pm tonight, to Thursday at 10pm.

‘As of midnight on Friday over 1,000 responses had been received and in light of the CBA announcement followed by the statement released after the national meeting on Thursday we have been contacted by many solicitors and barristers asking for us to allow more time for people to respond,’ Bill Waddington, chair of the CLSA, said in a statement.

He added: ‘There is an obvious misunderstanding in relation to the protection of the independent bar as the cuts to solicitors and the proposed consolidation will have the most devastating effect upon our professional colleagues. We understand that they are currently considering their position.’

The CBA’s move to back away from direct action has already prompted some criminal barristers to speak out in opposition, with Mansfield Chambers urging members to call an emergency meeting to overturn the decision.

On Friday the crime team at Garden Court Chambers also voiced its support of solicitors in the battle against further cuts to legal aid.

‘We are deeply disappointed that the Criminal Bar Association has backed away from supporting the action called for by its members and call on the leadership to re-evaluate the decision. Individually we remain committed to further action,’ a statement from the crime team said.

Waddington and Jonathan Black, president of the LCCSA, noted that the knock-on effect of the cuts will ‘seriously impact upon the junior bar in terms of reduced instructions’.

They added that many at the junior bar have contacted them to express their concerns and to register their opposition. 

Both sides of the profession have been urged to take part in the ballot on direct action.

Meanwhile, local meetings for barristers and solicitors are taking place over the next couple of weeks, including one in Manchester next Monday and another in Merseyside this Wednesday.