Barristers and solicitors in Merseyside today agreed to forgo work in opposition to impending legal aid cuts, a week after the Criminal Bar Association dropped its plans to take direct action.
After a meeting involving over 100 barristers and solicitors in Merseyside, representing every chambers in the city and the vast majority of solicitors, individual firms said that they would not undertake any legal aid work under the rates introduced on Wednesday 1 July.
Barristers also said that they would not take any legal aid work after the legal aid cuts on litigators came into effect, ‘in recognition of the damage that these cuts will have upon the independent bar’.
Barristers also proposed re-introducing the no returns policy for all existing cases in the Crown court from 1 July. This means they will refuse to appear in court on a returned case where the instructed barrister is unable to appear.
‘The bar in Merseyside recognise fully the consequences of the imminent fee cuts and the effect it will have on them,’ Zoe Gascoyne, chair of the Liverpool Law Society criminal practice committee and Daniel Travers of Exchange Chambers said in a joint statement.
‘If the 1 July cut is to be implemented then solicitors will have sustained a 17.5% cut over a 15-month period in a profession that has not seen an increase to rates in over 20 years,’ they said.
‘The government recognise that the profession is fragile and yet continue to take grave risks with the stability of the criminal justice system. The profession gathered today are deeply concerned about the impact of this upon access to justice.’
Referring to lord chancellor Michael Gove's speech yesterday, the statement highlights willingness to embrace innovation leading to increased efficiencies.
‘We make this point to show that we are not resistant to new ideas however we simply cannot understand how the lord chancellor envisages reforming a system in which he is cutting beyond all reasonable levels the fees of the very people who are essential for delivery and implementation,’ it said.
‘We have received messages from a large number of areas indicating that similar meetings are being held around the country. We hope that the lord chancellor will reconsider implementing these cuts.’