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Liverpool lawyers defy bar chiefs to launch criminal courts strike

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Local barristers are refusing to take new instructions from beginning of July in fight against legal aid cuts

Cuts

Lawyers in the home of English militancy are today leading in the fight against government cuts to criminal legal aid rates by refusing to take instructions from the beginning of next month.

In a move that could bring criminal courts in the north-west to a grinding halt within days, solicitors and barristers in Liverpool have banded together in protest against the latest rounds of cuts to criminal legal aid rates.

Last week, the new Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove, confirmed that a forecast second tranche of 17.5% cuts would be implemented on the rates received by solicitors’ firms. But Gove announced that mooted cuts to criminal advocacy rates had been put on the back burner.

That move was interpreted as a Ministry of Justice bid to drive a wedge between the two branches of the profession. But it doesn’t seem to have worked on Merseyside.

Releasing a joint statement from local solicitors and barristers, Zoe Gascoyne, chairwoman of Liverpool Law Society’s criminal practice committee and a partner at Quinn Melville, and barrister Daniel Travers of Exchange Chambers, announced a go-slow from next month.

Their statement reads:

The bar confirmed that they would not be prepared to undertake any work on any case with a rep order [Legal Aid Agency instructions] dated on or after Wednesday 1st July in recognition of the damage that these cuts will have upon the independent bar. It was further proposed that the bar would re-introduce the no returns policy for all existing cases in the Crown Court from Wednesday the 1st July.

The move will put Liverpool barristers at odds with their national representative body, the Criminal Bar Association, which last week said it was doing nothing more than pondering the possibility of calling for action.

The Liverpool lawyers emphasised that they were not against modernisation, but that, in their view, criminal rates had already been cut to the bone.

“We … wish to make it known that as an area we are keen to embrace innovation and change that leads to increased efficiencies,” their statement went on, pointing out that local lawyers participated in a pilot for the early guilty plea scheme, before continuing:

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.

Read the statement in full below:

Joint Statement of Merseyside Solicitors and Barristers