CRIMINAL law firms will refuse to take on legal aid-funded cases in protest against “untenable” cuts that came into force yesterday, lawyers warned.
Lawyers argue that the government’s attack on legal aid funding is pushing the criminal justice system into meltdown, spelling disaster for those desperately needing representation in police stations and courts.
Last month, the Law Society criticised ministers for steaming ahead with plans to hack away at the number of contracts for 24-hour legal aid solicitors from 1,600 to 527.
Solicitors’ fees were slashed by a further 8.75 per cent and the total reduction amounts to 17.5 per cent following a cut by the same amount last year.
Justice Secretary Michael Gove sought to justify his callous plans by saying that Britain’s legal aid spending was “significantly higher” than that of other EU nations.
Last week, he palmed responsibility onto top lawyers by claiming that the highest-paid solicitors and counsel should do more pro-bono work to assist the justice system.
But Criminal Law Solicitors Association chair Bill Waddington wrote to Mr Gove warning him that lawyers up and down the country had discussed refusing to work in response to the cuts.
“Unity between solicitors and barristers, both silks and juniors, lead us to believe that from July 1 there will be very limited coverage across the country in police stations and courts, and over a period of time the situation will deteriorate further.
“We know that individual solicitors who have come to this conclusion have taken this decision with a very heavy heart indeed.
“The criminal justice system is heading towards meltdown as a result of these cuts, and if we do not take this desperate action now, access to justice will be decimated by your proposals with very many vulnerable and young people exposed to miscarriages of justice.”
Zoe Gascoyne, chair of the Liverpool Law Society Criminal Practice Committee, added: “The government recognises that the profession is fragile and yet continues to take grave risks with the stability of the criminal justice system.”