Chambers opposes CBAs decision to discontinue protests against legal aid cuts

28 Mar 2014

It was announced yesterday that the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) had agreed to discontinue the Bar’s protest actions against proposed cuts to criminal legal aid fees pursuant to an ‘offer’ by Chris Grayling to defer any such cuts until the summer of 2015.
Our concerns are summarised below. However, we are now pleased to report that the CBA has today announced its intention to review the decision, to hold an EGM and to ballot members on whether to continue to oppose all proposed cuts in legal aid.

The members of Garden Court North Chambers are appalled at the decision, angered by the unnecessary haste with which it was made and dismayed by the absence of any consultation with the CBA membership prior to making the agreement. Individually and jointly we have called on the CBA urgently requiring them to review and reverse their decision pending consultation with the membership.

Our solicitor colleagues have supported us admirably over the past several months. We fight the same fight – to protect the integrity, efficiency and fairness of our criminal justice system and to preserve access to justice for all. Chris Grayling’s ‘offer’ impacts not one bit upon the devastating, unwarranted and unacceptable cuts which target criminal solicitors, some of which are already in effect. The CBA has undermined the position of our solicitor colleagues and ignored the wider and more important principle underpinning our joint protests.

Civil practitioners at Chambers practise in the many areas already affected by legal aid cuts – judicial review, housing, immigration and prison law. They actively supported and became deeply involved in the actions of their criminal practitioner colleagues. They were dismayed at the impact of the huge fee cuts in 2012 which further reduced cuts in real terms of 48% imposed during the previous 17 years. Then came the 2014 decision to restrict payment for judicial review. The former created a general disincentive to practitioners to provide legally aided services at all whilst the latter represented a shameful attempt to deter individuals from challenging government decisions. Our civil practitioners believe that the damage being inflicted on the wider justice system is an issue that is an integral part of the criminal protests and yet has been completely ignored by the CBA.

Our solicitor colleagues are continuing to protest and fight; we are proud of them and we will continue to support them locally and nationally in any way that we can. We will be joining them in their protests on 31st March and 1st April and any future days of action.

Chambers has called upon the Criminal Bar Association to reconsider its agreement with the Ministry of Justice. In so doing, we apologise to our civil practitioners, our solicitor colleagues, our colleagues in the probation service and our lay clients for the decision taken in our name but without our agreement.

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