Protest action could again be on the cards as anger escalates over the government’s latest attempt to slash legal aid fees.
Meetings have been organised in Hull, Cheshire, Merseyside and London this month for criminal defence practitioners to discuss proposals to reform graduated fee schemes for litigators and advocates.
Zoe Gascoyne, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, said: ‘Solicitors are angered to find that they are being presented with a consultation which invites practitioners to opt for one cut over another only seven weeks before the new contracts.
‘It is totally unacceptable for matters to be presented in this way, particularly when we know that savings have already been made and we have seen no evidence of the necessity for cuts to an already fragile profession.’
The Law Society will shortly conduct a web survey of members.
President Robert Bourns said: ‘Depending on what the MoJ decides to do following the consultation, we will be considering our options very carefully and taking advice on possible courses of action.’
In a foreword to the ministry’s consultation on the litigators’ graduated fee scheme, justice minister Sir Oliver Heald said the lord chancellor ‘is minded not to reinstate the second fee cut… while targeted and modernising fee reforms are taken forward.
‘We will seek to confirm this once the government has considered the responses to this consultation,’ he added.
In 2015, thousands of solicitors boycotted new legal aid work for 52 days when a second 8.75% fee cut was introduced on 1 July. The cut was suspended by the then lord chancellor Michael Gove for a period of 12 months from April last year.
Gascoyne said there had been much talk from individuals about the fact they will no longer continue to accept section 36 cases, where the defendant is prohibited from cross-examining the complainant (such as in cases involving domestic abuse), ‘which will be problematic for courts across the country’.