The Lawyers’ Revolt is spreading

Avatar photo

By Jonathan Ames on

Legal aid solicitors and barristers in London, Leeds and Manchester latest to join insurgency


Peasants’ Revolt leader Wat Tyler and Jack o’ Kent were potentially contemporaries — although, to be fair, the latter was a mythical character from the Welsh Marches — and now their memories are being invoked in very modern battle over criminal legal aid.

The legal profession Twittersphere’s very own Jack of Kent — aka, solicitor David Allen Green — along with others have spent the last few days imploring criminal law solicitors to muster the spirit of Tyler’s 14th-century insurrection.

While Tyler’s peasants were enraged by centuries of serfdom and the imposition of an unfair poll tax, criminal law solicitors have had a bellyful of legal aid rate cuts — first at the hands of the last coalition government and now another tranche imposed by the current Lord Chancellor.

Tyler’s nemesis was the 14-year-old Bordeaux-born Richard II; the current lawyers’ revolt has in its crosshairs Justice Secretary Michael Gove, and they are getting increasingly feisty.

Indeed, one of those at the social media forefront of the revolt is barrister Ian West from Middlesbrough and Newcastle-based Fountain Chambers. As at least one Crown Court judge has learnt to his cost, getting on the wrong side of West can be a hairy business. So when West says “revolt”, perhaps Gove should take notice.

West was responding to a Twitter hashtag #lawyersrevolt, under which JoK had noted that crime solicitors in various regions of the country were gearing up to follow the strike action proposed last week by Liverpool lawyers.

Indeed, Jack of Kent suggested that brethern in Birmingham, Cardiff and Hull were already on board, with lawyers in Leeds, Manchester and London joining the revolt yesterday evening.

Rebellious meetings are apparently scheduled additionally for Leicester, Derby, Nottingham and elsewhere in Wales.

So it looks like West was right last week when he predicted uprising on Merseyside was just the beginning.

Others have pointed out that despite causing something of a fuss, ultimately the revolt didn’t end happily for the peasants in 1381. Tyler himself came to an especially grim end with his head slapped on a spike and paraded across London Bridge.

Yet others debated whether invoking Chamberlain or Pangloss was a more appropriate comparison for the legal profession’s approach to Gove.

Meanwhile, Tony Cross QC, the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, continued with his impersonation of shilly-shallying Reg, leader of the revolutionaries, the Peoples’ Front of Judea, in “The Life of Brian”.

In his weekly message yesterday to an increasingly hard press and agitated flock, Cross thundered that more discussion — and a survey — should save the day.

The Criminal Bar Association will not cease to make the case for solicitors to be properly remunerated and we will support them,” wrote the silk before railing: “how best to do this will be debated at the reconvened executive meeting this week. The CBA executive has promised to keep the situation under review. It shall.

If that wasn’t enough to send Gove scurrying for cover behind a phalanx of special advisers, Cross went on to hit the Ministry of Justice with this killer punch.

I shall be communicating with the Criminal Law Solicitors Association and each of the 35 firms of the Big Firm [sic] Group to ask them to set out very clearly their position and for their permission to state their views publicly so as to ensure that the membership of the CBA have a clear and accurate understanding of the matter.

That should do the trick.

At least the Big Firms’ Group — some 20 of the larges criminal law solicitors’ practices — had a letter published in The Times (£) at the weekend, welcoming a statement in the House of Lords querying whether Gove should go ahead with the next round of legal aid cuts before the latest contract tenders had been concluded.

Still, it’s a fairly safe bet that the bookies are giving short odds on some metaphorical rebellious heads ending up again on London Bridge pikes.