The non-violent revolution called for by former Court of appeal Judge Sir Anthony Hooper at the ‘vote for Justice Rally’ has begun. Sir Anthony called upon defence lawyers to withdraw their labour to protest the legal aid cuts. ‘Unless you [lawyers] are prepared to withdraw your labour you have no hope,’
With a new Lord Chancellor (Mr. Gove) we had hoped that he would see the folly of his predecessor’s ways. We went to see Mr Gove and put all the relevant points such as the declining expenditure, the perilous state of legal aid firms’ finances, and the lack of any objective evidence from experts or the profession supporting the case for cuts etc. We followed this up with detailed written submissions with references. Then when requested, we responded within 24 hours to supply further evidence about the effect of the cuts. Then despite all this overwhelming evidence as to current damage to legal services (none of which has ever been refuted) we are informed that the cuts and removal of two thirds of firms from duty schemes will proceed without prior consolidation and without a promised review beforehand.
The statement itself was insulting in that it failed to take into account that high quality advocacy was necessary for the proper conduct of 97% of cases which are in fact conducted at the Magistrates courts and yet these are the very fees selectively reduced as well as severe reductions at police stations where people are extremely vulnerable. The proposals inevitably involve massive losses at the bar as a consequence of their instructing firm’s removal and growth of in house advocacy.
The repetition of bogus international statistics added fuel to the fire. The fact that slavish press allies will repeat this nonsense does not make it true. The MOJ fails to compare different scope and societal demands of different commonwealth countries and utterly fails to acknowledge that according to the NAO our UK spend like for like with other countries is merely average.
The announcement fails to take into account that Legal aid Lawyers have not had any increase in pay rates for nearly 20 years. What other sector has been neglected for so long? Pius hypocrisy expressed over Magna Carta and Human rights are worthless verbiage when the people are denied expert advice to give meaning to them.
We have had enough. Lawyers are by instinct and practice conservative in approach and slow to anger. But we have been pushed too far. The Government’s refusal to honour their promise to hold a review prior to further cuts is a betrayal of the people. To hold a review after the cuts have been brought in is not a review but a body count after the train crash.
The revolution called for by Sir Anthony Hooper has arrived. The profession must stand up and fight for Justice or it and we will be swept away. We are holding a ballot and inviting solicitors to refuse to work at the derisory rates as no one can properly discharge their professional obligations at these levels. The Bar are also invited to renew their fight following their overwhelming vote in favour of action recently (refusing returned briefs) and take part in the ballot. It is now or never. It is the only language the MOJ understands. Unite or die.
The ballot hub will be up and running within the next 24/48 hours.
Bill Waddington & Jon Black