Michael Mansfield QC lashes out at Criminal Bar Association decision to drop direct action plans
Crime law barristers were on the brink of internecine war today with their own leaders after the Criminal Bar Association backed away from calling a strike in opposition to government legal aid rate reforms.
One of the biggest names at the criminal bar — renowned silk Michael Mansfield — rallied practitioners to call for an emergency meeting of the association to defy the leadership.
Mansfield — who acted for those wrongly convicted of IRA bombings in Guildford and Birmingham — said in a statement issued within the last hour: “It is time for barristers to make a stand and strike.”
The 73-year-old QC continued:
Most people are now unable to fight their corner because of the legal aid cuts and the risk of innocent people being convicted is more apparent now than ever before. If the lawyers don’t stand up now the government will decimate legal welfare completely and will ultimately lead to the collapse of an effective and fair criminal justice system. Including the very existence of an independent and committed public service profession able to challenge the excesses of successive overweening governments.
Mansfield’s famous criminal law and civil liberties chambers, Tooks Court, folded at the end of 2013, with the set’s leaders blaming the recent spate of legal aid cuts on making the practice financially unviable.
Mansfield’s call for an extraordinary general meeting of the CBA followed the association’s announcement yesterday that it was backing away from strike action.
In his weekly message, CBA chairman, Tony Cross QC of Lincoln House Chambers in Manchester, yesterday told members, “we will not call for barristers to forgo work in opposition to the scheme,” saying that instead the association wanted to await the outcome of a solicitor ballot on action.
The CBA decision also comes several days after the government decided not to slash fees for Crown Court advocacy, while at the same time imposing a second tranche of 8.75% cuts on solicitors’ criminal legal aid rates. Many viewed the decision to postpone advocacy fee cuts as a sop to the bar in a bid to avoid strike action.
Our initial discussions with the new government and the Ministry of Justice since the election mean we believe there is now a real opportunity to secure long term improvements in the quality of Crown Court advocacy and to ensure a sustainable future for the junior bar and thus the future of the profession.
We are aware of the deep concerns of a large number of our members … and what they expect us to achieve in negotiation with the government. The executive remains of the view that significant reforms need to be made to protect the interests of the public, which are best served through the provision of high quality advocacy and the CBA will take whatever action is necessary to secure this goal.