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Criminal bar chief vows to speak up for legal aid as Global Law Summit opens amid heavy security

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Tony Cross QC hits back at critics who say he should boycott Chris Grayling’s law schmooze-fest

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The head of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has pledged to provide a voice for legal aid lawyers at the much-maligned Global Law Summit, which opened yesterday evening at the Royal Courts of Justice amid heavy security.

Tony Cross QC has been criticised by some criminal practitioners for speaking at justice secretary Chris Grayling’s law schmooze-fest, with fellow CBA member John Cooper QC particularly vocal, slamming Cross in The Times and in the Legal Cheek comments section.

The pressure on the CBA boss has been intensified by the decision of Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti to pull out of the event.

But yesterday Cross hit back, telling The Independent how he will use his platform for good.

“I’m going to talk about how successive governments have treated public law with contempt, certainly over the last 20 years,” he said, adding:

“I will look to compare and contrast this wonderful idea of Magna Carta and where we are now: how morale is at an all-time low, how barristers and solicitors feel undervalued. The last few governments have treated the legal aid system as a second-class service, when in fact it should be treated as a first-class service that society demands, from probation to the delivery of services in magistrates’ and crown courts.”

Certainly, it will be interesting to observe how Cross manages to get his voice heard at an event that is open only to members of the press who are approved by the summit’s organisers.

Yesterday evening when Legal Cheek tried to gain access to the opener of the three-day event at the Royal Courts of Justice we were refused entry as ID-badge wielding delegates passed through tight, airport-style security barriers.

But we’ll be doing our best to report Cross’ summit speech — which is rumoured to include a demand that no non-lawyer is ever again appointed as Lord Chancellor — when it is given over the next couple of days.

The most newsworthy action may, however, be taking place outside the summit, which today moves to the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster. Outside actress Maxine Peake (who plays Martha Costello QC in BBC drama Silk) will join protestors reading from Magna Carta, before Not The Global Law Summit takes place this evening in Islington, north London.

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