LCCSA Survey on taking action to #SaveUKJustice

PUBLISHED May 10, 2022

How can we save publicly funding criminal defence services

At our joint training event with CLSA on 25th April, the mood in the room was clear. First, only an immediate, substantial fee increase can save our profession. This has implications well beyond ourselves: without a properly-remunerated defence sector, a fair and functioning criminal justice system cannot exist. Second, our members are ready and willing to vote with their feet, taking measures which risk stalling the system in the short term, but only in order to stop its current trajectory as it rolls slowly but surely off the side of a cliff.

Several ideas came from members at the event of what they would do (or are already doing) to demonstrate to the Government the absolute seriousness of our collective demands. The LCCSA is not a trade union, and so cannot direct our members or ballot for industrial action. However, we do see it as a key part of our role to share information amongst our membership, empowering London’s criminal defence solicitors through the knowledge that so many others find themselves in a similar position: financially on the brink, but energised by the realisation that there is little left to lose. To that end, please complete this short anonymous survey letting your colleagues know what action you would consider taking unless and until the Ministry of Justice agrees to:

  1. An immediate increase of 25% on all fees
  2. An effective pay review body reporting annually or biannually
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Many members are already turning away legally-aided defendants charged with burglaries and low-value thefts, for which the starting cracked-trial fees are £233.03 and £224.22 respectively. That figure remains unchanged however difficult it is to take instructions from your vulnerable client; however many prison visits you make; whatever expert evidence you seek or witnesses you interview; irrespective of the complexity of your legal arguments or the number of times you needed to chase the CPS for a response. Meanwhile, in elected cases that crack before trial we receive £330 no matter how many pages of evidence are served. In other words, we are paying the Government to let us do this work.
If the system still appears to be creaking along, it is in large part due to our good will. We paper and repaper over the ever-widening cracks by doing favours for the Courts to the detriment of our mental health and work-life balance – and indeed, sometimes, to the detriment of our clients. Examples of this when acting as duty solicitor include: seeing clients during our lunch break; chasing clients’ own solicitors on behalf of the court; “helping out” duty solicitors in other courtrooms; bowing to court pressure and therefore not taking the time to read through the entirety of the IDPC ourselves, and again with the client at the LAA’s suggested rate of 2 minutes per page.
The Standard Crime Contract requires that the duty solicitors amongst us: (a) “use all reasonable endeavours to accept Panel and Back-up Matters referred by the DSCC”; and (b), not hand matters back at the end of our duty slot unless we are unable to continue acting personally or instruct another suitable agent or colleague. But, built into this system is the unreasonable and arguably unlawful expectation that we forgo our right under the Working Time Regulation to 11 hours uninterrupted rest in each 24-hour period.
London solicitors have previously come together during working hours, to share professional concerns and discuss potential solutions to the crisis in our criminal justice system. If a critical mass of employed and freelance solicitors were to attend these sessions again, and pupils were to be simultaneously unavailable, there would be hearings listed in the Magistrates’ Court which could not be covered. The progress of summary trials would be impacted by the lack of an advocate.
Some members at the training day said that our existential circumstances called for more radical action: that our deeds needed to catch up with our words. They spoke, for example, of mass walkouts from the courts. Whilst the more people involved in such action, the less likely any individual or firm would be penalised, protection from contract breaches – or even, in extreme cases, wasted costs orders – could not be guaranteed. If the action was coordinated by unionised employed solicitors, as part of a lawful ballot, this could go some way to protecting both those staff and the contract holders who employ them (whose hands would be tied). This is something on which legal advice can be sought.
Yes, whether solicitors were unionised or notYes, but only through a unionYes, but only without the involvement of a unionNo, not under any circumstances
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