Courts across the country could grind to a halt if the newly elected government proceeds with plans to reform criminal legal aid contracting and barristers vote for direct action in protest.
Before the general election, retired Court of Appeal judge, Sir Anthony Hooper, called on barristers to withdraw their labour if a Conservative government was elected.
Speaking at the Rally for Justice, organised by solicitor groups, he said: “If the Conservatives come back into power, it’s revolution time. We have to stop helping them and stop working.”
The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has balloted its 4,000-strong membership on whether they would support direct action if the government refuses to abandon the changes that would reduce the number of criminal solicitors’ firms from 1,600 to 527.
The action proposed is the “No Returns” policy of not covering for double-booked barristers – employed effectively over fee cuts last year – and “Days of Action”, effectively closing the courts as barristers withdraw their labour.
CBA chairman, Tony Cross QC, said the proposal will “damage deeply access to justice and deal a colossal blow to the self-employed Bar”.
Tony Cross said it would cause the closure of hundreds of law firms and put many solicitors out of jobs.
He said the change would put the independent in “jeopardy”. Work would “haemorrhage away” from the Bar as the large remaining firms increasingly retain advocacy in-house in order to make a profit.
Standards will plummet and “justice for all will suffer,” he said, while the government’s changes, motivated by “ideological nihilimsm”, will have no financial benefit.