Legal Aid

A MASS walkout by criminal defence solicitors has brought justice to a halt in south Cumbria.

PUBLISHED February 19, 2007

The two-day national strike, which kicked off yesterday, saw legal representatives refusing to defend their clients at magistrates? courts in Barrow and Kendal.

Those arrested and held in custody at Barrow police station also suffered from limited help.

One solicitor was available for a time at Furness Magistrates? Court yesterday morning, to advise defendants and also on call to the police if needed.

The industrial action is a demonstration of their anger at government plans to make them tender for Legal Aid work, that will see firms bidding for the contract to operate in an area.

Roger Peach, president of the Criminal Defence Solicitors Union, said he had never seen such anger among his colleagues across the country.

Mr Peach said: ?This has been like a volcano where the anger of defence solicitors has been bubbling away and there is massive well of resentment.

?Everyone agrees that the criminal defence system is in a fragile state and it is tottering.

?Thousands of solicitors will be taking part in this strike and inevitably there is a real chance it will cause chaos to the criminal justice system.?

Ramsey Barker, head of legal services at Furness Magistrates? Court, said solicitors had informed the court of the impending industrial action last week, so they had managed to work around it.

He said: ?We made sure we adjourned any trials that were due to take place so witnesses and defendants wouldn?t be caused any inconvenience.

?Some of the other listed cases were also adjourned and listed off to another day.

?It ended up being quite a quiet day really.

?Obviously for those with matters in the system it would have had an impact as cases were adjourned.?