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Legal aid strike fractures amid scab claims

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Only a few hours in and solicitors were already at each other throats — and the bar continues to shilly-shally

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Criminal law legal aid solicitors had been striking for only a few hours when allegations of scab behaviour started to fly yesterday afternoon.

One of the first to point a finger was Franklin Sinclair, the rambunctious senior partner of what claims to be the largest crime law firm in England — London and Manchester-based Tuckers.

Sinclair took to social media to out fellow Manchester firm Abbey Solicitors for allegedly breaking the strike.

Some posted possible defences if were indeed true that Abbey was continuing to take legal aid cases.

But the boss at another local firm was convinced that Abbey was on the wrong side of the picket line.

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In an email to Legal Cheek yesterday evening, Abbey Solicitors senior partner Nadeem Ullah said the firm had no comment on allegations that it was hoovering up work while others were striking.

Then Tuckers itself was challenged for allegedly not being quite as donkey jacket-wearing and committed to the workers’ struggle as it might like the others to believe.

It was an allegation that elicited an emotional response from one criminal lawyer.

Adam Makepeace, Tuckers’ practice director, dismissed claims of hypocrisy. He maintained the confusion around Warwickshire resulted from the firm operating through a consultant in that region.

“He is not under our direct control in the same way as an employee is,” Makepeace told Legal Cheek last night, adding:

However, we expect him to adhere to our stance. We were first put on notice that he was not acting in accordance with our protocol around 12.30 this afternoon [yesterday]. We will ensure that either he observes our protocol or that he doesn’t do any work outside the protocol through Tuckers.

Makepeace continued:

The organisation of all of this has come very late. The Birmingham meeting was not finished until after 6pm yesterday afternoon. This guy has slipped through the net of organising ourselves properly — but we will deal with it.

Sources close to the criminal legal aid fraternity maintained yesterday evening that Tuckers had turned down several significant sets of instructions since the strike began.

Solicitors around the country have organised local strikes without formal invovlement of their national representation body, the Law Society.

Indeed, Chancery Lane’s apparently sole comment on legal aid yesterday was to tweet a note at lay-punters pointing out that funding was still available in certain civil areas.

Criminal lawyers are incensed that the Conservative government appears committed to imposing a second round of nearly 9% rate cuts on law firms, following a similar slash last year.

Inflaming the situation has been a Ministry of Justice decision announced several days ago that cuts scheduled for Crown Court advocates would be put on hold. That move is seen as a bid by Justice Secretary Michael Gove to mollify the bar and drive a wedge between the two sides of the legal profession.

Indeed, the Criminal Bar Association only decided yesterday to ballot its members on “next steps”. In a note to members, the CBA said:

The question is this: solicitors face an 8.75% cut to litigators fees. In support of solicitors, do you wish to go back to ‘no returns’ and also refuse all new work with a representation order dated from 1 July 2015 until such time as solicitors decide not to take further action in respect of that cut? Yes/No.

The deadline for voting is, rather appropriately, 14 July — Bastille Day.