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Criminal bar remains resolute as over 90 chambers back direct action over legal aid cuts

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Barristers have been refusing to take new publicly-funded cases since April 1

It is understood that over 90 chambers now publicly support the Criminal Bar Association’s (CBA) call for direct action in response to fresh government cuts to legal aid.

In a message to its members, CBA chair Angela Rafferty QC said that the bar’s “resolute approach” had led to a “watershed moment”. A spreadsheet doing the rounds on social media overnight suggests the association now has the backing of 91 sets. Stressing that it’s still the CBA’s hope that a solution can be reached before the “action escalates,” the Red Lion Chambers barrister continued:

“The cohesion makes us strong. Solicitors are playing an invaluable part in this and are showing tremendous courage in their dealings with the courts and their clients.”

Last month, CBA members voted overwhelming in favour of direct action from 1 April. This was in response to changes to the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS), which barristers say will result in further cuts to their income.

Rafferty, however, was keen to stress that this was not a strike. “We cannot strike given our self-employment,” she said. “All we can do is to refuse work — this is harmful to all of us but especially our most vulnerable members and our Chambers. Yet we think it is necessary. The action we are taking is to save our future and the future of the criminal justice system. We are considering how we can protect our most junior and vulnerable members.”

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Taking aim at the government, Rafferty said that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) had provided no indication that it was willing to invest in a system which was already suffering from “chronic impoverishment.” She continued:

“The politicians who can resolve this dispute must be aware of the growing clamour to do something about justice. The rhetoric towards us must change. The only message we hear is one of cut, cut, cut. We have been hearing it for years. We have had enough.”

The CBA’s defiant message comes less than a week after a panel of top lawyers predicted that chaos would ensue as a result of the protests.

Penelope Gibbs, a research associate at the University of Oxford, anticipated that “judges will adjourn cases rather than getting unrepresented defendants to struggle to represent themselves”. Emphasising that this would be the correct course of action, Gibbs told those in attendance at the Why Criminal Justice Matters event in London that adjourning so many cases will “create chaos” in a justice system that is already “crumbling”.

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