The criminal bar could be joined by solicitors on the picket line next week as pressure mounts on the government to prevent the criminal justice system grinding to a halt.
Hundreds of barristers voted to go down the most drastic route for escalating their legal aid action – no court attendance, no new instructions and no returns. Starting on Monday, placard-bearing barristers will gather outside the Old Bailey and crown courts in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol and Cardiff.
Today, the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association encouraged its members to join the picket line.
LCCSA president Hesham Puri said: ‘The dire state of legal aid, court backlogs and lack of a viable government plan to secure the healthy future of justice and its professionals have driven our colleagues to this point. As an association, we stand together with our colleagues at the bar. Their fight is our fight.
‘We understand that our attendance at the protest will have an impact on the magistrates’ court, but our voices must be heard.’
The association will hold a remote meeting with members this week to answer questions on the practical implications of attending.
Puri said: ‘We have seen the template letters drafted by the CBA which deal with our responsibilities on the days of action which the Law Society have taken up with the CBA. We anticipate we will receive further guidance as to our contractual responsibilities on the days of action.’
Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: ‘We understand the motivation that has led to the Criminal Bar Association taking this action and recognise that many members will be sympathetic to it. However, it would be unlawful for the Law Society to call on our members to take direct action and solicitors must also be aware of their professional and contractual obligations when considering whether or not to join court walkouts.
‘We have issued guidance for rejecting un-remunerative publicly funded criminal work and on undertaking advocacy during ‘no returns’ action.’
Many criminal defence solicitors are already boycotting low-paid burglary cases. The Gazette understands the scope of refusals will widen shortly.
The government is expected to lay secondary legislation by mid-July, with legal aid fee increases coming into force by the end of September.