Members of Chambers did not attend court on Monday morning, alongside other Barristers across England and Wales in protest against the proposed further significant cuts to legal aid and publicly funded work, blighting the proper and fair access to justice. It is the first time in the history of the Bar that such action has been taken.
In Manchester, around 150 barristers and solicitors attended the protest outside of the Crown Courts at Crown Square, Manchester with speeches from leader of the Northern Circuit Andrew Byrne, QC and Adrian Farrow. At 10am, not a single criminal defence practitioner remained in court.
Nationally, thousands of barristers and solicitors attended 15 protests in major cities around the U.K, bringing most courts to the standstill. Only cases with vulnerable witnesses were heard.
Barrister Rachel Faux, reading a statement from the CBA echoed by colleagues at other protests, said the UK justice system was “the envy of the world but gradually over time it has become starved of resources. Our system exists to ensure that the guilty are punished and that the innocent are acquitted. This can only be achieved by ensuring that the system is properly funded and that the brightest and best are prepared to undertake publicly funded work.”
The motion to strike, proposed by Head of Chambers Mark George, QC, was passed in November at a meeting of the Criminal Bar Association .
Among those taking up protest, solicitors stood alongside colleagues at the Bar who are also affected by the cuts already in effect and those proposals. Recently a vote of no confidence was passed against Law Society leaders in their failure to protect members’ interests adequately.
In April, 2013 around 100 Manchester solicitors turned out in support of the 400 barristers taking action in opposition of the governments plans to reform criminal legal aid.
Attending the protest in Manchester, Deputy Head of Chambers Nina Grahame attending protests in Manchester said: “there were young barristers now earning just £15,000 a year – a far cry from the public image of fat cat silks with flash cars and children in private schools”.
The Ministry of Justice maintains it is vital to scale back the legal aid system, which in their view shall remain “very generous”.
Garden Court North Chambers has been actively supporting the campaign since May, 2013 with members of Chambers taking action in a number of meetings and demonstrations, and drafting responses to consultations on the proposed cuts.