Further barristers’ strikes a growing possibility as government pushes on with legal aid cuts

The Ministry of Justice has confirmed that legal aid fees for criminal solicitors will be cut by 8.75 per cent.

The number of contracts for attending police stations and magistrates court will also be reduced by two thirds.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Courts and Legal Aid, Shailesh Vara, said in a statement: ” 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. We recognise and value the reputation our legal profession enjoys internationally. We must preserve that reputation while enhancing the quality of advocacy in our courts.

“We cannot escape the fact, however that there is a pressing need to ensure our criminal justice system performs more efficiently. Last year we spent £1.7bn on legal aid. Although that is down from the 2009-10 peak, it is still far higher than many other developed economies. As a proportion of GDP, we spend more on legal aid than any other EU nation outside the UK.

“Of course no two legal systems are identical, but there is no doubt we still have a generous system compared to other countries. The continuing need to reduce the deficit means that we must make further progress. We must secure greater efficiencies while maintaining a high quality service and guaranteeing that everyone accused of a crime has the same access to a legal aid lawyer as they do now.

“Having considered the findings of Sir Brian Leveson’s report into the efficiency of the criminal courts, the impact of broader criminal justice reforms, and the impact of changes already introduced, we have decided to press ahead with the second 8.75 per cent reduction to litigators’ fees announced by the Coalition government.”

Confirmation of the cuts is the first major move from the department since Michael Gove took over as Lord Chancellor after the election in May.

It means that there is a strong possibility of further strikes by barristers, as members of the Criminal Bar Association voted overwhelmingly in favour of direct action last month.

Tony Cross, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said: “The Criminal Bar Association regrets the decision of the Ministry of Justice to press ahead with the Duty Provider Scheme and to impose further fee cuts on hard pressed litigators. 

“The executive of the CBA will be discussing our response at the earliest opportunity, including further consultation with our membership.”