Ministers will press ahead with fee cuts for criminal solicitors, while shelving similar cuts for barristers.

Justice minister, Shailesh Vara, said he had “listened carefully” to the profession, but decided to implement the second tranche of 8.75% litigator fee cuts from 1 July, but not to go ahead with £10m advocacy cuts “at this stage”.

Instead Vara said the Ministry of Justice will work with the profession to “explore alternative ways of securing savings through greater efficiencies in criminal proceedings.”

Vara confirmed the Ministry will also proceed with the controversial two tier contracting model that will reduce the number of solicitor’s firms from 1,600 to 527.

He promised an independent review of the arrangements and their impact on access to justice and quality will be undertaken in July 2016.

In a written statement Vara said: “Maintaining access to justice and upholding the principle that those accused of a crime have the right to representation in their defence is vitally important.”

But, he said the cost of doing so, although reduced, is still too high. Vara added: “We are particularly keen to ensure we retain a vibrant independent Bar and protect the high standard of advocacy which is a hallmark of our justice system.”

In doing so, he may have staved off threatened action by barristers in protest over the scheme. As Counsel went to press the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) announced it had dropped the decision to take direct action, despite a vote by its members to do so last month.

CBA chairman, Tony Cross QC, said he regretted the Ministry’s decision to press ahead with the duty provider scheme and to impose further fee cuts on hard pressed litigators.” 

But he said initial discussions with the Ministry since the election mean the CBA believes there is a “real opportunity to secure long term improvements in the quality of Crown Court advocacy and to ensure a sustainable future for the junior Bar” and the future of the profession.

Following the CBA’s decision, veteran barrister Michael Mansfield QC called on its members to demand an extraordinary meeting and vote for direct action.

“It is imperative that the Bar sends a clear signal to the Government that the criminal justice system will not survive further cuts,” he said. “It is time for barristers to make a stand and strike.”

Responding to the CBA’s decision, the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) and the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA) said they were “bitterly disappointed” but not surprised that the CBA leadership appeared to have bought the Government’s attempt to “divide and rule”.

CLSA chairman, Bill Waddington, said: “Solicitors are capable of battling on without the Bar although we think many barristers will continue to give their full support to us in this battle”.

Solicitors will be balloted on refusing work at the “derisory” rates that their representative groups say make it impossible to discharge properly their professional obligations.

LCCSA president, Jon Black, said the quality of preparation by solicitors has “dipped drastically” since the first 8.75% cuts came in last March.

He warned that the “unilateral attack” on solicitor’s fees will hit the Bar as solicitors will be “herded” into the Crown Court and, where the Bar is “lucky enough to be briefed”, they will see an increase in “inadequate instructions”. “Only a united opposition to these cuts wil be good for access to justice and continued quality representation,” he said.