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100 chambers now refusing new work in legal aid cuts protest

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Executive Committee met this week and considered recommending escalation of the action

The number of chambers refusing new work in protest against the government’s cuts to legal aid has hit three figures.

Nationally, there are now 100 chambers involved in the quasi-strike action. Big names including Carmelite, Doughty Street, Furnival, Garden Court, Lamb Building and Matrix are on the list. Outside of London and supporting the cause are the likes of 1 High Pavement (Nottingham), 9 Park Place (Cardiff), 12 College Place (Southampton) and Linenhall Chambers (Chester).

In March, members of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) voted overwhelmingly in favour of refusing new publicly-funded cases from 1 April. This walkout is in response to the government’s changes to the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS), which it’s understood will result in further cuts to legal aid lawyers’ income. Government spending on legal aid has fallen by more than £1 billion since 2005.

Angela Rafferty, chair of the CBA, said:

“We remind the government that no barrister wants to take this action. Our repeated calls for a principled and practical solution stand. Justice should be placed in its rightful place. Investment across the system is required.”

She also told us “the Executive Committee met this week and considered recommending escalation of the action”, but provided no further information about this.

Because of this action, suspected murderers have now appeared in court without barristers. For example, the Old Bailey hearing for Kema Salum, who stands accused of killing his wife, was delayed because no barrister was there to present his defence. His solicitor, Seona White from BSB Solicitors, told the court she couldn’t find anyone to represent Salum, despite having contacted more than 20 chambers.

Jonathan Black, a partner at BSB Solicitors, said at a recent panel event that further chaos is to be expected as non-murder cases filter through the magistrates’ court system and to the crown courts.

The budget for justice is forecast to fall by £600 million in next two years, from £6.6 billion to £6 billion.

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36 Comments

Anonymous

Some Crown Courts (eg Reading) are getting round this by demanding that Solicitors turn up to PTPH’s noting that no adjournments will be granted due to not being able to get counsel.

Anonymous

This is true. However, Advocacy is not part of the Standard Criminal Contract and so we are not obligied to turn up as we are not paid for doing so. It’s very nice of the Judge to grant us blanket rights of audience to help him out. However we are not obligied to accept his pro-bono instructions. I have not yet had a reply to my Private Client Care Letter to the Judge wishing to engage me on a private fee basis to help him out at PTPH and he doesn’t seem to have yet put us in funds. So we won’t be going.

Anonymous

I turned down a case this week and my solicitor was put on the spot by being given immediate right of audience. Client mentally unwell. Solicitor felt he had no choice but to assist

Anonymous

It is a difficult one, but no firm can act without a retainer. We do not have a legal aid retainer as the Representation Order only covers Magistrates Advocacy and Litigation. Crown Court advocacy is specificaly excluded from the Standard Criminal Contract. Solicitors also have contractual obligations which are incompatable with doing Crown Court advocacy, not least the requirment to complete 14 hours a week of contract work (which does not include Crown Court advocacy).

If we are to act then we either accept a pro-bono retainer or a private fee retainer. We are not required to accept pro-bono instructions simply because the Presiding Judge at Reading (pay rise of 11% this year) wants an easy life.

The reason we can’t find a barrister to go is that the fee offered for the PTPH is £125 fixed (minus the £70 train fare from London). That fee is payable however to the barrister who does the trial. Where no barrister accepts the trial, a barrister covering the PTPH is paid no fee at all. I’m afraid I am not prepared to send one of my solicitors to do a hearing at a £70 loss, particularly as it is a hearing he / she lacks the experience to do properly. When publicly funded Judges start working at a £70 a day loss, then I will do likewise.

Not Amused

I think CBA has gone about this the wrong way and I deplore the involvement of the hard left. But I do sympathise.

What upsets me is that projected government spend for 2016-17 is £772 bn. We must have enough money to pay for all of the necessary frontline services we need with that. It’s not a small amount of money. That also doesn’t include local government – which provides most of the things that most of us actually use.

But we are trapped in a cycle where the red party just spend like a drunk, borrow endlessly, spend the money on their supporters and pretend to be nice. The blue party then cut the money, but do it in such a ham fisted way that people suffer and then get defensive and ignore basic human emotion.

Perhaps it is time we asked for the government to tell us the nation’s accounts, in detail, and we’ll sort the whole thing out for them.

Anonymous

Well done for saying absolutely nothing, Not Amused

Anonymous

And what, pray tell us, would have been the right way to go about it?

Not Amused

Gather cross party support, try to appeal as broadly as possible. Refuse to be used by either party and instead build a coalition of support.

If you can then work out the best bit of forthcoming legislation to tag an amendment on and get that through.

If not then write a detailed report identifying where either alternative cuts can be made or alternative funds raised.

Or just be rude to the people trying to help you. Whichever you prefer.

Anonymous

The combined CPS and Criminal Legal Aid budget is less than the cost of giving pensioners free TV Licences. Or to put it another way, less than the cost of knocking 1p of the price of a pint of beer. Its not really a strike NA. Its market collapse. It’s not just that I don’t want to accept a brief that pays me now £2.60 per hour. It’s that the whole system is in such a state of collapse as the police, CPS and Courts have no money that nothing gets done. Cases are adjourned time after time. After 25 years of frozen fees and cuts, the Criminal Bar is pretty much beyond caring. We’d rather do anything else than continue as we are. We don’t really expect the govenment to do anything. We just don’t want to do it anymore.

Not Amused

My heart is with you – and that truth is of no use to you at all.

I can give tips on strategy. I can’t and won’t offer you snake oil.

Anonymous

I can see why you’d think that trying to build cross-party support is a sensible idea. The trouble is we’ve tried that for the last 20 years. The Labour Party brought in RAGF in 1997 (set at 1995 rates), never raised the fee in line with inflation and made 7 separate cuts. The Conservatives have made 3 cuts since 2010. It isn’t a left / right issue. Labour had enough money for free TV licences and the Conservatives had enough money to knock 1p off the tax on beer, both claiming that there was not enough money for legal aid, the CPS or the Courts.

Since 2010 40% of the M o J’s budget has been cut. It is proposed to cut another 40% over the next 5 years. It isn’t just that barristers have no money, the system has become unworkable. I currently hold a brief in a S18 stabbing from 2016. The trial has been in 4 warned lists and adjourned every time due to Courts standing empty as the govenment will not pay Recorders to sit. It has finally been given a fixture for July 2018. I can’t do the trial as I am in another. It’s not just that I now do not get paid anything for the work I’ve done on the case. It’s that it isn’t proffessionally satisfing to waste my time preparing the case and sorting out disclosure to then not do the trial as the Court cannot get it’s act together and actually list the case.

Young barristers are no longer entering criminal practice as the fees at the bottom end are just too low for them to survive and pay off their uni debts. Work is being done by old guys like me. I’m lucky. I didn’t have to pay tuition fees and I bought property in London at the right time. I’ll pay off my mortgage in the next two years, at which point I could retire, move up north and live off my rental income. I would be prepared to keep working, but not at the rates and conditions being offered.

As there are no new barristers and solicitors coming up to replace old guys like me, I suspect that within the next couple of years there will be no market at all for legal aid work. Yongsters can’t do it. Old gits like me don’t want to do it anymore.

JD

You are completely correct. By way of a personal anecdote I studied law at Cambridge and could have joined a commercial law company, but found crime more interesting despite warnings (even in the better-ish days of 2010). I qualified and spent around 5 years as a criminal barrister watching the already collapsing system collapse further.

I was Police Station Accredited and worked in house so effectively did solicitor and barristers work. It meant a fixed salary, so I was comparatively better off than a junior self employed barrister, but my salary was capped at 30k (in London) and those who followed me were capped at less.

I could live off the salary but for the insanely long hours (including being voluntary on-call overnight and on weekends) , stress and lack of time to prepare each individual case; combined with the sight of a system unable to deliver justice due to the cuts (how can a prosecutor be expected to conduct a trial properly when he’s usually given 4 -6 trials in the morning of the same day?!?), meant that quitting became an easy choice in the end despite my interest.

Now I teach English in Japan. Taking out expenses the pay is not dissimilar, the stress is far less and my work/life balance much better. Is it any wonder there will be next to no (well qualified) criminal lawyers in the future…British Justice is just as much an oxymoron as American Leadership now.

Anonymous

Please explain who you mean by the hard left? Also it wasn’t the red party who created the problems. It was your friends in the city.

wavey don denning

Who are the hard left, Not Amused?

CITY PARTNER

You are

Anonymous

Hard left . Barristers?

Anonymous

Get rid of overseas aid budget. Job done.

The Brown Shite

NO ONE CARES ABOUT LEGAL AID CUTS APART FROM LEGAL AID SLUTS.

NO ONE CARES IF CRIMINAL BARRISTERS ARE POOR.

NO ONE LIKES CRIMINALS.

STOP GOING ON ABOUT BLOODY LEGAL AID FOR GOD SAKE

Anonymous

Got that the wrong way round. Nobody cares that commercial lawyers are sitting in their drone cubicals only earning £100k from the tax payer bailed out banks. Nobody cares that you are stressed. Nobody will ever use your services.

The 50% of the adult population who will be arrested at some point during their lives would rather like someone to represent them.

The 33% of the adult population who will find themselves charged with an Indictable offence at some point in their lives would rather like someone to represent them.

The Brown Knight

WRONG HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Criminal Hack

I have always found that writing my skeleton arguments in capitals helps me look rational and well informed

Mumsy

WELL IM TOO SENILE AND DERANGED ARENT I?

Alex

Time to change your incontinence pants, Mumsie.

Trainee at MCF

criminal lawyers write skeleton arguments?? Didn’t even know they could write at all

Anonymous

We can. We even know how to use a full stop and capital letters to start a sentence. Unlike MCF Trainees. We go to court and conduct advocacy. Now get back to your cubical and get on with your difficult job of proof reading, knowing that when you fuck it up nothing too bad will happen. Nobody will go to prision and your firm’s insurance will pick up the tab.

Trainee at MCF

Oh no if you fuck up some ‘init’ robber (who probably stole my bike) goes to prison. Diddums, the public will be so upset…

You live in a bubble. Your job might be fun in your wig and gown and drama in front of the jury, but at the end of the day you act for people the rest of us would rather not meet at all…

Go figure…

Why do commercial lawyers get paid properly… because people care enough to pay. Yes, people care about the economy and they care about jobs. Whoever said of elections:

‘its the representation for the poor criminals stupid’

Criminal Hack

I do not understand your argument. To me, it appears to be full of non-sequiturs. If you are really an MCF trainee (which I doubt – I know many MCF trainees and lawyers who are delightful, bright), you should appreciate that a lawyer’s worth is not determined by the amount that someone is willing to pay for him or her.

I do deal with people that you’d rather not come across. They’re part of the reason I’m a criminal hack. I like being the mechanism through which their voices are heard. And their voices count just as much as yours. Just as representing people charged with may not be a vote winner, I doubt that representing insurance companies, oil companies and oligarchs is hugely popular with the general public either. Really, that’s not the point. The justice system is supposed to protect parties (in civil and criminal proceedings) from the prevailing popular and political landscape.

Given that I work on legal aid, I appreciate that my views are likely to be wrong, ill founded and that you’ll only value them at £1.50.

Criminal Hack

MCF trainee is right. It is shocking how many of us make it through our degrees and professional qualifications despite being illiterate. My “Archbold” doesn’t contain any words at all. Instead, it has a series of elaborate dot-to-dots and complex colouring in pictures. I have to employ an artist to transpose all witness statements and ABEs into an elaborate Beano like storyboard to enable me to understand cases. It’s quite costly. That’s why there’s insufficient legal funding for everyone else.

Trainee at MCF

if you pay peanuts … you know what you get… you know what you are right?

Anonymous

Absolutley. You earn 5 times as much as a trainee doctor. That makes you five times as important. Right? Until you get stabed.

You are funded by the tax-payer bailed out banks. So what? It doesn’t make sitting in a cubical difficult or important.

184,000 people a year enter the CJS every year for the first time. They are people just like you.

Don’t know if you ever leave your little cubical, but if you had any knowlege of the world outside it you would have seen the number of innocent people wrongly accused due to disclosure failings by the CPS. Including, a doctor accused wrongly by a fantasist left with a £94,000 legal bill as he didn’t qualify for legal aid due to the cuts and was not entitled to recover his fees due to LASPO.

It does matter that we have a functioning police force, NHS and justice system. And people do care about that. That might be why the Secret Barristers book is in the best seller list.

Trainee at MCF

Stabbed….

It has x2 Bs

Dillwod…

Retired Queen's Counsel

That is about the stupidest, most ill-informed comment on this matter which I have ever read. Do you know how much it costs to keep someone in prison? That is paid for by the tax-payer so if you are going to jail somone you’d better ensure it’s the right person and that his sentence is appropriate and not excessive. Barristers are integral to this process. They perform a very difficult public service very well, and without them the courts could not function properly. Successive governments have always weasled out of paying barristers appropriate fees. The politicians who have allowed this situation to unfold as it has are moral cowards, every last one of them. A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, I say. I’m no leftie, but good luck to the barristers, I say.

Anonymous

There are more chambers striking which haven’t been included on the list. Not every chambers has made the decision to publish a statement about their decision to strike in order to respect the individual decision of every barrister to manage their practice independently.

ufohunterorguk

The trouble isn’t the funds, the trouble is too much crime, maybe if the government wasn’t so soft on crime by telling judges to let violent thugs walk free people would commit so much crime, less crime means less cases means more money for those that persist, its not a financial problem its a society problem

Anonymous

The number of cases entering the CJS has in fact been falling by 7% per year for the last 5 years.

Anonymous

The state needs to understand that in a free market economy business will only tender for work if there is a profit to be made – no business (with maybe exception of short term ‘loss leader’ will take on work where it will make a loss. The current situation with legal aid in crime, Family, civil, housing, mental heath etc is simply the lack of funding available to Solicitors and barrister mixed with the difficulty of people actually qualifying for legal aid, as much as people do not like hearing this the state need to put more money into the whole justice system

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