“Goodwill gesture” by criminal solicitors ends legal aid boycott


Barristers and solicitors suspended their protest action over fee cuts and contracting reforms without securing any settlement offer from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

After surveying their members in August, the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA) and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) announced the cessation of the 52-day action.

The practitioner groups said the move was a “gesture of goodwill” in recognition of the importance of the engagement they had had with the MoJ over the previous weeks.

In a joint statement, the CLSA and LCCSA said: ‘We firmly believe that the time is right to suspend the action with immediate effect. By doing so we hope the relationship which has now been established will continue into the future.

“There are many challenges ahead and the engagement to date is a sign that those challenges can be debated constructively in a receptive atmosphere.” 

The statement added: “We recognise that this has been a very difficult time for those participating in the action and we are grateful to those who have stood firm in support of their principles.”  They thanked the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) for its support in the action: “and in doing so recognise the immense sacrifice made by many on both sides of the profession.” The CBA also suspended its boycott and “no returns” policy. Its Chairman, at the time Chairman-Elect, Mark Fenhalls QC, said: “There is no reason why barristers should not accept any fresh instructions.”

The nationwide boycott began on 1 July, the date that the second tranche of 8.75% fee cuts for solicitors was introduced. Barristers joined in with the action on 27 July, following a vote by the CBA membership.

Despite the MoJ stating that the courts had continued to sit as usual throughout the boycott, there were widespread reports that it had caused chaos at courts and police stations, with cases adjourned as defendants were left unrepresented.

The Public Defender Service was called in to assist, with Silks deployed to cover a small number of Crown court trials that would normally have been done by juniors.

Many criminal lawyers were unhappy with the move as they felt that the MoJ was starting to come under pressure.

The MoJ however welcomed the development and said it would “look forward to continuing to work constructively with the professions”.

Solicitor groups have consulted members on whether firms should withdraw the bids that they made back in the spring for the new contracts for police station work that are due to start next January, under the controversial two-tier system.

Fenhalls said the two-tier scheme represents an “existential threat to the quality of the justice system”.

“Solicitors and barristers must continue, even at this late stage, to try to persuade officials and politicians that there are viable alternatives,” he said.

Category: 
Issue: