The government faces the threat of further disruption in the courts as dozens of solicitors prepare to join the criminal bar in protest action over the government’s controversial criminal legal aid reforms.
After surveying members on possible options for action, the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association announced today that 95% of 140 respondents have signalled support for refusing to take on low-paid work in the magistrates’ court, such as burglary and assault on emergency workers.
LCCSA president Hesham Puri said: ‘The verdict is clear. Our words must be backed by action. Defence solicitors will say “no” to low-paid cases like burglary where they frankly end up paying for the “privilege” to work. Our goodwill has run out and will no longer prop up a broken justice system. The action will, inevitably, cause yet more havoc.’
The action will commence on 25 May, starting with burglary cases. The LCCSA, which has 870 members, says cases in the magistrates’ court could collapse with defendants unable to access a lawyer. Crown courts would experience further disruption as cases tried ‘either way’ – such as harassment and stalking – would be unable to proceed.
A bulletin to members last night explained solicitors’ contractual obligations, stating that under the provisions of the current crime contract, only duty work is obligatory. Other work may be refused on the grounds that it is uneconomic.
‘The rejection of instructions on the basis that the work is not properly remunerated or cannot be properly resourced given the funding available under the Legal Aid Agency scheme is compliant with the principles set by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. It’s a matter for you to establish the nature of the work that’s not adequately remunerated under the contract,’ the bulletin said.
The LCCSA conducted a survey after several practitioners who attended a legal aid consultation ‘training session’ last month signalled their appetite to join the criminal bar in escalating action.
Members were surveyed on five options, which also included taking a full hour’s lunch break and handing back clients who have not been interviewed by the time a solicitor’s duty slot ends.
Following last month’s training session, the LCCSA aligned its demands with the criminal bar and is now asking for a 25% fee uplift instead of 15%. The government’s consultation on criminal legal aid reform closes on 7 June.