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Crime legal aid lawyers paying the price for years of fat cat fees, says top silk

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Incendiary remarks could divide profession as barristers head to picket lines today in support of solicitors’ battle against MoJ rate cuts

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Criminal law legal aid lawyers are paying the price for a golden period of fat cat fees, a leading silk said today as barristers go on strike to battle government-imposed rate cuts.

Francis Fitzgibbon QC (pictured below) — who a week ago was elected as vice-chairman of the Criminal Bar Association — told a recently launched legal affairs blog that “during the golden years of legal aid there was masses of work”.

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At that time, said the 29-year-call silk from London’s Doughty Street Chambers, the criminal bar was “in some cases … probably excessively well paid”.

Speaking to the blog LegalHackette, Fitzgibbon said:

Some people thought it was going to go on for ever. But I’m sorry, things don’t go on for ever.

His controversial comments fell against the backdrop of intense media coverage this morning of the biggest legal profession strike in living memory. Barristers were set to down wigs today in support of solicitors’ firms that face a second round of 8.75% cuts to fees imposed by the Ministry of Justice.

Coinciding with the strike was the launch of a new Twitter hashtag and blog that aimed to boost public support for the lawyers and awareness of the value of criminal legal aid to ordinary people.

Created by four lawyers — non-practising solicitor Melanie Horrocks, Toni McCarthy, a partner Hull-based Barker & Co, former criminal barrister Steph Varle, and freelance solicitor Michaela Pashley — the hashtags #legalaidhero and #notafatcat were today flagging up a series of stories designed to win the heats and minds of middle England.

Despite the publicity, debate still rumbled over whether the legal profession would remain united against Justice Secretary Michael Gove.

Last Friday, at a meeting with the MoJ, the group that represents the largest crime law solicitors’ firms told Gove that they would go back to work in the magistrates’ courts after three weeks of turning down all instructions but police station interviews.

And the CBA is scheduled to meet this evening to see if that new “protocol” launched by the big law firms will alter its view of whether barristers should be on the picket lines.

There are also suggestions that several law firms have followed the example of the one major Manchester practice that publicly broke the strike.

The new CBA vice-chairman acknowledged to LegalHackette that regardless of the outcome of this current action, the structure of criminal defence work would change.

I should imagine there will be a degree of fusion of barristers and solicitors,” Fitzgibbon told the blog. “Whether that will just be at the training stage or throughout is hard to tell. For the public interest, the key thing is to have specialist and properly motivated litigators and specialist and properly motivated advocates.