Barristers call off fees protest

PUBLISHED November 3, 2005

Barristers on the Midland and Northern circuits have decided to call off their protest over cuts in criminal legal aid rates to await the outcome of the Carter review, claiming they have nonetheless won the argument with the government.

Many had been refusing to accept new publicly funded work in protest over the ten-year freeze in fees, since further pay cuts were implemented at the start of October.

The two circuits had previously been the most militant, with large numbers of criminal practitioners deciding to take action, causing considerable disruption to the courts.

A Bar Council spokesman said significant numbers of barristers in Wales were understood to be continuing to refuse new briefs, while the position in other parts of the country was more mixed.

Michael Redfern QC, leader of the Northern Circuit, said: ?We have clearly won the argument that the pay rates are in many cases too low ? the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) has accepted we have bloodied their noses on this issue.?

He added: ?We have made the point and it is unnecessary to cause further inconvenience to defendants or the courts.?

Mr Redfern said the situation would be reviewed by all circuit leaders following the Carter review into legal aid procurement next spring and indicated that individual barristers would be prepared to take further action if necessary.

He warned: ?This is not an end of the action but a postponement. The mood of anger continues and it will only take the government to do something intemperate for the seething discontent to erupt again.?

Peter Joyce QC, leader of the Midlands circuit, denied the step was a climbdown, and said: ?The bar has shown the government that without the goodwill of the barristers, the criminal justice system would collapse and collapse quite quickly.?

A DCA spokeswoman welcomed the decision but insisted the criminal justice system had been maintained despite the action.