LCCSA News, Legal Aid

Solicitors to work to rule for the first time ever

PUBLISHED March 20, 2014

Solicitors who do publicly funded criminal legal aid have voted to work to rule. The first time solicitors have taken such action.
500 criminal defence lawyers met yesterday in Manchester in response to the government’s fee cuts which take effect today. A minimum 8.75% decrease is being imposed on all work carried out by solicitors in magistrates, crown courts and police stations throughout England and Wales. Next year that cut will increase to 17.5% though in certain areas this will be as much as 30%.
In addition to working to rule, the solicitors voted for two more days of joint action, this time with the probation service on 31st March and 1st April. Two weeks ago 2000 lawyers marched on the Ministry Of Justice in a full-day walkout chanting, ‘Grayling, Grayling, Grayling Out! Out! Out!’ The lawyers have been escalating their action since cuts of £215 million from the annual criminal legal aid budget were confirmed. Solicitors, barristers and access to justice campaigners have been united in their opposition, arguing that the cuts will see the criminal justice system collapse, increased miscarriages of justice and a denial of justice to those who cannot afford a private defence lawyer. Now lawyers are joining forces with probation to warn the public of the wider crisis facing the criminal justice system.
Nicola Hill, President of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association said,

‘We are standing by the probation service as they too face a dangerous overhaul and risky, non-evidence based privatised rehabilitation agenda. Throughout the criminal justice system we are seeing justice eroded .
The Ministry of Justice and the courts have benefitted from the goodwill of defence solicitors for many years. Legal aid lawyers have been oiling the wheels of a creaking justice system for too long. We’re no longer prepared or able to do this. That’s why we’ll be working to rule, sticking to the letter of criminal procedure. This won’t be to the detriment of clients but will demonstrate to the MOJ that we’ve been taken advantage of too long. Our hand has been forced.’

Bill Waddington, Chair of the Criminal Lawyers Solicitors Association commented,

Yesterday’s decision is an indication of the anger and frustration about what the government is doing. The fact that some 500 lawyers holding over 700 legal aid contracts took the trouble to drop everything at very short notice to make their views heard, shows we are at the end of our tether and not prepared to put up with this any longer.
We’ve been trying to persuade the MOJ for 12 months that the approach is both wrong and damaging . They don’t wish to hear what we have to say or if they do hear it, they're not listening .
The work to rule is the start of our campaign to ensure the CPS complies with every requirement and if they don’t, there’ll be more delays and additional costs. We intend to withdraw every act of goodwill which at the moment we provide by the bucket load to keep the system from collapsing . That will now stop .’