Legal aid strike falling apart as big firms head back to work
Exclusive: Rumours suggest that core group has struck a deal on verge of Ministry of Justice meeting
The legal aid lawyers’ strike is on the verge of crumbling as the country’s large criminal law firms are thought to be returning to work.
The development came as specialist criminal law groups were meeting Justice Secretary Michael Gove this morning in a bid to hammer out a deal that would save face for both sides.
However, Legal Cheek has learnt that criminal lawyers are convinced that the largest practices — which have clubbed together as a lobbying collective known as the “big firms group” — will start taking instructions from 6pm this evening.
It is understood from sources close to the firms that a protocol has been agreed between the BFG and the Criminal Law Solicitors Association (CLSA), which will allow the firms to take on all new instructions, barring Crown Court work.
The BFG and the CLSA are thought to have presented the protocol to Gove this morning.
The move has incensed law firms outside the BFG, as they maintain the protocol was drafted without wider consultation. Many will also view it as a stab in the back as the larger firms could ultimately gain from the Ministry of Justice’s reform plans if smaller competitors are driven to the wall.
Commented one source from outside the larger firms:
The agenda of the BFG and disunity caused by such a message is damaging to our cause and I for one am not happy to take action which will allow the BFG to strengthen their position.
Controversy swirled around the MoJ meeting even before the tea was served.
Social media fizzed with suggestions that one of the biggest of the big firms — London and Manchester-based Tuckers — had been breaking the strike. Tuckers top dog, Franklin Sinclair, roundly rejected that suggestion.
@Defencebrief totally untrue where does this rubbish come from. We've not done one own client case in Mcr,Brum,Kent +London for 22 days
— Franklin Sinclair (@FMStuckers) July 22, 2015
But he also faced criticism for being abroad at the time of the big MoJ pow-wow.
There was also confusion over the position of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA). The view yesterday was that it would take a lead role in this morning’s meeting, with the Bar Council itself — along with the Law Society — not attending.
However, the CBA leadership — which had unsuccessfully argued against barristers voting for strike action — claimed that it too had not been invited and would not attend.
Breaking: @TheCriminalBar *not* attending MoJ meeting with Gove. Claiming 'not invited' – even though they were asked to name attendee.
— Jack of Kent (@JackofKent) July 23, 2015
That left just the CLSA and the London Criminal Court Solicitors Association in the room with the BFG to face Gove. The Lord Chancellor himself would have been slightly hampered — newspapers reported this morning that Gove is hobbling around on crutches owing to a possibly fractured foot.
Leaked memo from strikebreaker law firm says it’s too late to stop the cuts [Legal Cheek]