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Solicitors ‘cannot strike but they’ll continue to quit’ over legal aid

Monidipa Fouzder >>

Solicitors will continue to vote with their feet by quitting criminal legal aid unless more government funding is forthcoming, the Law Society has said in response to the criminal bar’s decision to commence full-blown strike action.

Chancery Lane said solicitors shared the criminal bar’s concerns about the criminal justice system and were experiencing the same squeeze, but are limited in what action they can take due to their professional obligations and contractual requirements.

Unable to ‘strike’, several solicitors have instead been boycotting poorly paid work such as burglary cases in response to the government’s controversial £135m reform package.

Society vice-president Lubna Shuja said: ‘Whilst barristers vote to escalate their direct action, solicitors continue to vote with their feet by leaving the profession altogether. Many see no future in criminal defence work, following the Ministry of Justice’s failure to fully implement Lord Bellamy QC’s recommended minimum fee increases.’

‘The number of solicitors and firms doing criminal legal aid work continues to fall at a time when the criminal defence profession is needed more than ever to tackle the huge backlog of Crown court cases.

‘Meanwhile duty lawyer schemes in places like Barnstaple and Skegness are collapsing, meaning that people who are arrested may be unable to get advice in the police station that they are legally entitled to have. This would have serious adverse consequences for the fairness of any subsequent trial if they are charged.

‘Victims and defendants are having to wait far too long for justice, with reports from our members of cases in some parts of the country now being listed for hearing in 2024.’

The Ministry of Justice says solicitors will see a 15% fee increase in magistrates’ court and police station work. Chancery Lane says the reforms amount to a 9% increase across the board when taking into account all areas of criminal legal aid. Barristers are demanding a 25% fee uplift.

The ministry remains defiant, branding the criminal bar’s decision to escalate action ‘irresponsible’.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)