The Public Defender Service (PDS) and London lawyers have been accused of attempting to break the protest action taken by solicitors who are refusing new Crown court cases in opposition to legal aid cuts.
Solicitors in Hull and Hampshire have told the Gazette that PDS solicitors and a number of practitioners from small London firms have attended to ‘tout’ for cases from defendants left unrepresented due to solicitors’ protest actions.
Bill Waddington (pictured), chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, said PDS lawyers have targeted preliminary hearings and attended in Hampshire and Hull because these are areas where the solicitors’ protest has been strongest. ‘Instructions to do so can only have come from on high – the LAA or the MoJ,’ said Waddington.
A Southampton solicitor who did not want to be named said: ‘Most of our clients were on board with our protest action – we have helped them but have not applied for legal aid.
More troubling is the judicial collusion – it is bad enough that the PDS has been called in, but some judges have asked defendants in court if they would like to be represented by the PDS, which is not appropriate.’
A statement on behalf of the presiding judge said there had been no judicial involvement with the PDS.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman confirmed that members of the PDS had attended at courts in Hampshire over the past 10 days, but would not reveal at whose instigation, stating that he could not go into ‘operational’ matters.
He said: ‘The Public Defender Service has a number of lawyers available to act in cases where a defendant does not have representation in court.’
Waddington said: ‘This is a tactic to divide, conquer and demoralise, but solicitors are made of sterner stuff and will not be broken by these sorts of bully-boy tactics.
‘Solicitors are sticking with it [the protest] – it isn’t finished yet.’