Legal Aid

Court gridlocked as lawyers go on strike over legal aid row

PUBLISHED February 23, 2007

Legal aid lawyers picket Highbury Corner Magistrates Court last week
Legal aid lawyers picket Highbury Corner Magistrates Court last week

LEGAL proceedings at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court were gridlocked last Friday as defence lawyers went on strike.

The solicitors, who are all funded through the Legal Aid system, gave clients a possible taste of the future of the criminal justice system when they set up a picket line against sweeping cuts.

Law firms, especially the smaller ones, claim that under new government proposals there will be more miscarriages of justice if they are forced to bid against each other for work.

Friday?s strike meant the corridors of the magistrates? court, in Holloway Road, which serves Camden, were full of confused defendants, forced to represent themselves or wait for a duty solicitor.

A spokesman for Her Majesty?s Courts Service said: ?A large number of cases were adjourned for solicitors to attend and the knock-on effect of the action is that it will take longer for those cases to be completed.?
Legal Aid defence lawyer Greg Foxsmith, a partner in Holborn-based Shearman Bowen & Co, described the courts as ?utterly paralysed?.

But a spokesman for the Legal Services Commission (LSC), which runs the Legal Aid System, said there were ?no cuts to the Legal Aid budget?.

And he warned: ?Should further action occur, the LSC will take steps to minimise the affects on publicly funded clients and the wider criminal justice system.?

Under the current system, a prosecutor deals with all cases in a certain court at a certain time, while different defence lawyers will represent different clients.
Protesters say the new system will mean one prosecutor and one solicitor wrangling over a morning?s caseload, but say this does not take into account defence solicitors? need to consult clients. Jim Nichol, of Taylor Nichol, Finsbury Park, said: ?The government strategy is to cripple and destroy legal aid. Already they have excluded 20 million people from free legal aid through means testing.

?They are seeking to drive small firms out of business. In future we?re likely to see firms of lawyers like call centres or factories.?

The LSC spokesman added: ?We exist to help those who are vulnerable and will continue to strive to ensure that they get the best possible help.?