Criminal defence solicitors have been told to hold on a litte longer after legal chiefs were told belief that the ailing sector will be saved is fast diminishing.
Solicitors told a panel discussion at the Criminal Law Solicitors Association conference that the sector is shrinking every year.
‘There is no belief anymore. Promises are never upheld. We’re having to take the government to court,’ one attendee told the panel, which comprised Her Honour Judge Deborah Taylor, chair of the Criminal Legal Aid Advisory Board, Law Society vice president Richard Atkinson, CLSA president Daniel Bonich, London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association president Fadi Daoud, and solicitor Zachary Whyte, a member of trade union Unite.
‘The biggest problem we are going to have is trying to get people engaged. The principle problem is trying to develop a strategy that will engage the profession again. People have effectively given up,’ the solicitor said.
Taylor replied: ‘Coming from the north east, we have got a saying, “Shy bairns get nowt”. If you do not ask, you do not get. If you do not engage, you do not even enter the game anymore. I hope the position of CLAAB does make a difference. I know people will be sceptical about yet another committee but one of the ways I hope we will gain confidence of the profession again is by making recommendations and publishing what we are doing.’
The board will make recommendations on a regular basis, Taylor added.
Last month the CLSA and LCCSA urged members to join trade union Unite – a move that would enable them to take full-blown industrial action.
Whyte said: ‘If more of us join a trade union, that strengthens our hand further… We’ve seen how barristers stopped working and that had an impact. We could do something similar. Given all criminal cases go through the magistrates’ court, that could have a huge impact.’
Asked by an attendee how long solicitors should hang on for, the conference was reminded that the Law Society’s legal challenge over criminal legal aid fees will be heard in the High Court next month.
The government has also set aside £16m for police station fees in response to the Bellamy review.
Bonich told the conference some of things being discussed by CLAAB could be delivered by the middle of next year if accepted by the government.