Barristers stage nationwide walkout

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Thousands of barristers are to stage a second nationwide walkout today at courts in England and Wales over legal aid cuts.

As barristers chose not to attend proceedings at major crown courts in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool, among others, hundreds of lawyers will also march on Westminster in protest at the Government reforms.

Janis Sharp, whose son Gary McKinnon narrowly avoided extradition to the United States, Blur drummer-turned-solicitor Dave Rowntree and Paddy Hill, one of the Birmingham Six, are among speakers set to address more than 400 barristers and solicitors at a rally opposite the Houses of Parliament.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is pressing ahead with fee cuts for barristers and solicitors as part of a bid to slash £220 million from the legal aid budget by 2018/19.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said the final reforms reflect many of the changes barristers and solicitors have asked for and also highlighted measures announced last week to support lawyers through the period of transition.

Nigel Lithman, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), said: “If these cuts are not addressed, then the British justice system, which is held in such high esteem around the world, will cease to exist as we know it and the British public can no longer expect true justice to be delivered.

“It is simply expected that the criminal Bar will accept cuts unparalleled in any other sector of the wider community.

“The Bar cannot and will not accept these unnecessary and crippling cuts and will continue to fiercely oppose them at every opportunity until our reasonable requests have been met with the appropriate levels of consideration.”

Protesters will march on the Ministry of Justice to deliver a signed Magna Carta scroll defending the right of every citizen to justice.

Barristers refused to attend court for the first time in January, causing widespread disruption to criminal justice.

The CBA and London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA) claim fee cuts are financially unnecessary, will cause significant damage to the criminal justice system, and drive skilled and experienced lawyers away from publicly-funded criminal work.

There are already a number of crown court cases emerging in which defendants have been unable to secure a barrister.

LCCSA president Nicola Hill said: “These cuts mean that law firms will rapidly go to the wall in their hundreds, leaving people who can’t afford to pay privately with only the crumbs of legal aid. Firms will sack experienced, more expensive solicitors, replacing them with those who are unqualified and cheap.

“This can only be damaging for justice. The solicitors who are still in business quite simply won’t have the time, money or expertise to prepare cases properly.

“And it’s the ordinary people, those we don’t hear about, who don’t make the headlines, who will have to accept third-rate advice. Not the wealthy, who can pay privately.”

The Ministry of Justice has previously said it is vital to scale back the “most expensive” legal aid scheme in the world and insisted it will remain ”very generous” even after the changes.

But the CBA said many junior barristers face rates as low as £20 a day, once the hours of preparation, time in court and chambers’ fees are factored in. as well as receiving no holiday pay, no pension provision and no sickness or maternity benefits.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “At around £2 billion a year, we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world.

“As everybody knows, this Government is dealing with an unprecedented financial challenge and the MoJ has no choice but to significantly reduce the amount of money it spends every year.

“We have spoken at length over the past year with solicitors and barristers about the reforms and our final plans reflect many of the changes they asked for.

“It does mean fee reductions, but it also includes a series of measures to ease their effect on lawyers.

“In line with our efforts to apply the highest fee reductions to the highest earners, these plans represent an average 2% reduction for barristers at the lower end of the fee income scale, and an average 6% reduction more generally.”

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