Barristers scheduled to strike over legal aid reforms
An historic strike by barristers is scheduled to take place on January 6th 2014 in response to the legal aid reforms planned by the Government. The changes are aimed at cutting the cost of running the UK's justice system (which currently stands at £2billion annually) by reducing the legal aid fees paid to barristers. Barristers believe that these changes will seriously harm the criminal justice service as poorer people would be unable to access the right level of legal aid they require.
Should the proposed legal aid reforms come into force, barristers in long-running legal aid cases (Very High Cost Case, VHCC) would see their legal aid fees cut by 30%, while barristers involved in non-VHCC cases will suffer an 11% reduction; additional contracts will also face a 17.5% reduction.
It is has been suggested by the Criminal Bar Association’s (CBA) chairman Nigel Lithman QC that the reduction in barristers’ fees would drive solicitors into other areas of law such as commercial, whilst deterring less privileged people from entering the profession. This would then leave many areas of law with inexperienced solicitors, harming people’s ability to defend themselves and reducing the chance of criminal convictions.
Strike action could seriously damage court cases
It’s no secret that the Government is trying to reduce the cost of running the UK’s justice system, and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) believes that the reforms to legal aid could help this by achieving savings of over £220 million a year from 2018/2019 onwards.
The MoJ has also suggested removing access to legal aid for people who have a monthly disposable income of over £3,000, a policy that has been heavily criticised by the CBA and claims management firms across the country.
Should the proposed strike go ahead, it would be the first time in history that solicitors have left their posts, and if enough of the CBA’s members vote for action it could cause disruptions in courts across the UK.
Speaking about the proposed strike, the MoJ has said:
“Barristers in Very High Cost Cases (VHCCs) are well-rewarded. Around two thirds receive fee incomes of more than £100,000, and often well-over that. Even after our changes they would continue to be generously paid. Any disruption to court schedules is unnecessary, and barristers choosing to try and do so inconvenience their clients and hard-working taxpayers”.
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