A top criminal chambers has broken ranks after the Criminal Bar Association decided not to call direction action in response to the government’s legal aid plans, calling for an emergency meeting to overturn the decision.
Mansfield Chambers said that it was ‘imperative’ that the bar sends a clear signal to the government that the criminal justice system will not survive the cuts.
The Criminal Bar Association earlier today said that ‘it understands the difficulty solicitors face’ after the government decided to pursue plans to cut fees for litigators, but said it would ‘not call for barristers to forgo work in opposition to the [duty provider] scheme’.
According to Mansfield, the executive committee voted by 34 to 11 against taking action on dual contracts or cuts to litigators legal aid fees. It said the decision had been described by insiders as 'naïve' and 'like trading the family cow for a handful of magic beans'.
Veteran criminal barrister Michael Mansfield QC (pictured) said in a statement: ‘It is time for barristers to make a stand and strike. Most people are now unable to fight their corner because of the legal aid cuts and the risk of innocent people being convicted is more apparent now than ever before.
‘If the lawyers don’t stand up now the government will decimate legal welfare completely and will ultimately lead to the collapse of an effective and fair criminal justice. Including the very existence of an independent and committed public service profession able to challenge the excesses of successive overweening governments.’
Mansfield Chambers said the CBA decision ‘will come as shock to members’ who had expected their representatives to endorse the mandate for action, after 96% of members voted in favour, and amounts to a ‘considerable U-turn’.
It added: ‘Many are now questioning whether that apparent preparedness to fight was in fact genuine.’
The crime team at 1 Pump Court also said it remains committed to direct action.
A tweet from the chambers stated: ‘The 1 Pump Court crime team maintain solidarity with our solicitors and reiterate our commitment to a united campaign against dual contracts’.
Meanwhile a document which the Gazette understands was drafted by members of Mansfields chambers with other criminal barristers sets out details of call for an emergency meeting. It notes that a meeting can be called by 50 members and raises concerns that action may not get under way before dual contracts are implemented.
The document also says cuts to advocates’ or litigators’ fees on criminal matters and a continuation of the dual contracts policy would be triggers for direct action. Action would include a restart of the ‘no returns policy’ within two days of a trigger, a one-day walk-out a week after the trigger and an indefinite walkout within six weeks of the trigger.