Lawyers opposed to legal aid cuts in England and Wales are to walk out for a second time this year today.
The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) called the cuts “crippling” ahead of the action, which is set to affect trials across the country and cost thousands of pounds.
The government is pressing ahead with the fee cuts for barristers and solicitors in an effort to save £220m from the £2bn annual cost of legal aid. A spokesperson for the government said reform of the “expensive” system was vital in austere times.
The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) called the cuts “crippling” ahead of the action, which is set to affect trials across the country.
Thousands of criminal case lawyers staged a first walk out in January, causing widespread disruption.
Today barristers will not attend proceedings at major crown courts in cities including London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool, and hundreds of lawyers will march on Westminster in protest of the cuts.
They will be addressed by speakers including former Blur drummer-turned-solicitor Dave Rowntree, the mother of Gary McKinnon, who narrowly avoided extradition to the US, and Paddy Hill, one of the Birmingham Six.
Legal aid costs taxpayers about £2bn every year – half goes on criminal defence and the rest on civil cases.
Government proposals – being phased in from April – to cut that by £220m include cutting fees in complex, high-cost cases by 30%, and in other crown court work by up to 18%.
The CBA and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA) say the fee cuts are financially unnecessary and will cause significant damage to the criminal justice system by driving skilled and experienced lawyers away from publicly funded criminal work.
The CBA’s Nigel Lithman QC said: “If these cuts are not addressed, then the British justice system, which is held in such high esteem around the world, will cease to exist as we know it and the British public can no longer expect true justice to be delivered”.
The CBA and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA) say the fee cuts are financially unnecessary and will cause significant damage to the criminal justice system by driving skilled and experienced lawyers away from publicly funded criminal work and will force hundreds of law firms in England and Wales to close.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said that at about £2bn, England and Wales had “one of the most expensive” legal aid systems in the world.
“As everybody knows, this government is dealing with an unprecedented financial challenge and the MoJ has no choice but to significantly reduce the amount of money it spends every year,” she added.
“We have spoken at length over the past year with solicitors and barristers about the reforms and our final plans reflect many of the changes they asked for.
A spokesperson for AlphaBiolabs said “with previous recent cuts we have already seen the impact on the number of public legal testing cases being reduced due to lack of funding”. We have spoken to several barristers and solicitors who see these cuts as a total undermining of the legal system as we know it.
One point a solicitor made to us was he ‘feels it is unacceptable that in 2014 someone cannot resolve a legal matter just because he/she is on a low income’.
He went on to say he feared a ‘two tier system, where if you have the funds available then you can get the appropriate level of representation for your needs.