The Solicitors Regulation Authority has issued guidance to solicitors in very high cost criminal cases disrupted by legal aid cuts 'reminding them of their responsibilities'.

In a statement today it said the professional ethics helpline has received 'a number of calls' from solicitors who have experienced difficulties instructing barristers who are refusing to undertake the work following 30% fee cuts last December.

The authority has posted two 'Questions of Ethics' on its website to guide solicitors.

The guidance reminds solicitors of their overriding duty to the court and to uphold the rule of law and the proper administration of justice.

As such, the regulator says solicitors are expected to make 'proper efforts' to find a replacement advocate, either a barrister or solicitor, including contacting the Public Defender Service (PDS).

The PDS currently employs 20 advocates, including four silks. Another two as yet unidentified QCs are set to join in June or July.

Following the Court of Appeal's ruling yesterday overturning the decision to stay a trial of five men charged with fraud, there are nine trials arising out of six prosecutions in which 31 publicly funded defendants are unrepresented.

SRA executive director for policy Crispin Passmore (pictured) said: 'This is an important issue and goes to the heart of the application of the SRA principles and the duties of a solicitor, both to their client and to the proper administration of justice.  

'The guidance we have issued applies clear and long-standing principles and helps firms and solicitors meet their responsibilities in accordance with the SRA Code of Conduct.'

Passmore said the SRA may issue further guidance addressing any other common enquiries from solicitors affected by the issue.

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