Over the last few months, criminal barristers have staged two days of action and implemented a ‘no-returns’ policy in protest of the government’s plans regarding legal aid reform.
Last week, however, the Criminal Bar Association agreed to drop plans for further action following the decision of the government to impose temporary concessions in the battle over proposed cuts to legal aid. An announcement by Ministry of Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, confirmed that the proposed changes to the graduated fee scheme will be postponed until summer 2015. Mr Grayling stated that the postponement would allow the MoJ to consider a number of issues, in particular; the findings that will come from the on-going reviews of criminal advocacy by Sir Bill Jeffrey and Sir Brian Leveson but also factors such as reported falling crime rates.
The MoJ has also agreed to bring forward the welcomed introduction of interim payments for litigators at Plea and Case Management Hearings (PCMHs) so that they will be implemented this summer. The Law Society’s chief executive, Mr Des Hudson, identified that this additional funding for PCMHs will ease cash flow for providers across the year 2014-15. He also recognised that the payments will come to the assistance of those firms who are currently facing difficulties due to the 8.75% cuts which came into effect recently.
The Bar Council Chairman, Mr Nicholas Lavender QC, responded to the postponement stating;
“[The move] points to a better future from the one which many have feared, and is to be welcomed”.
Mr Lavender QC acknowledged that criminal law barristers and solicitors alike recognise that the government, in the light of the economic situation, has had to make very difficult decisions in order to make savings in public expenditure. Additionally, he established that
“…legal aid barristers who are working at the front line of public service, often in difficult and demanding circumstances, have too often found themselves at the sharp end of those decisions”.
Criminal solicitors will still be affected as the previously planned 17.5% reduction in fees will proceed.
The position of the Law Society, the Bar Council and Criminal law Solicitors has not changed. The overall proposed cuts are not sustainable. Solicitors have warned that those accused of crimes, regardless of severity, could be at great risk of miscarriages of justice due to the inability to have access to a ‘decent’ lawyer should the proposed cuts go ahead.
President of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) , Nicola Hill, stated;
“As the government dismantles the criminal justice system, risks are being taken which threaten public safety and the right to a fair defence”.
Following the Criminal Bar Association’s decision to call off further industrial action until summer 2015, solicitors and probation workers united earlier this week to protest the changes being made within the probation service.
At Farleys, we deal with both privately funded and legal aid funded criminal cases. If you are facing criminal charges, it is essential that you speak to a criminal defence solicitor at the earliest opportunity. Our crime line operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – please call 01254 606050 for immediate access to legal advice from a criminal lawyer.