Lawyers in London, Leeds and Manchester have voted to strike, refusing to take on legal aid work after 1 July, when new rates are set to come in.
The reduced rates will see criminal solicitor fees cut by a further 8.75 per cent, meaning that fees will have been cut by 17.5 per cent over a 15-month period.
The London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA) released this statement today: ”The solicitors’ firms have confirmed they will not act in Legal Aids cases after 1 July, as it will be uneconomical to do so to a required and acceptable standard.Other firms not present have indicated support, and the remainder are expected to follow suit.
”Any firm acting for clients under a Legal Aid Order at the rates set after July 1st, must be either running at a loss, or not properly representing their client to the appropriate professional standard.”
LCCSA president Jon Black added: “We have overwhelming support for this action, which regrettably is necessary as a result of the governments intention to implement cuts and the proposed further cuts amounting to over 50 per cent on some cases for January 2016, without carrying out the promised meaningful review.
Had the government listened to our representations they would know that these cuts are not only unnecessary but dangerous. We have drafted a protocol, and firms that seek to act in breach of this are letting themselves, their professional colleagues and their clients down.”
Earlier this month, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) decided not to take direct action to oppose the cuts but its stance was flouted by barristers in Liverpool, who joined with solicitors to vote in favour of action last week.
Since then, lawyers around the country have been deciding whether to follow Liverpool’s lead and strike. Last week, the Big Firm Group, which represents the biggest legal aid firms in the country, said it would support the action and that no firm in the group would take on a case refused by a practitioner in the region.
Regions including Blackpool, Teeside, North Wales, Cardiff and the Midlands are voting tomorrow (30 June) on whether to strike. London lawyers are voting tonight (29 June) at Garden Court Chambers.
The CBA’s chairman Tony Cross QC said in his weekly statement today: “We are considering carefully and listening with an open mind to a wide range of opinions on what action, if any, we should take. We made it absolutely clear that we would review the position once the outcome of the solicitors’ ballot was known.
“We have a responsibility to ensure that those who do not feel comfortable expressing a contrary view in current circumstances are able to contribute and be heard, perhaps differently, but with equal value and respect.”
He added: “Of course the cuts to solicitors’ fees if implemented will increase the financial pressure on firms. It makes it even harder for the best solicitors to do a professional job for their clients. It is bad for justice.”
UPDATE: This story was altered at 9.30am on 30 June to reflect the London lawyers’ vote.