TRURO courts were disrupted today as barristers and solicitors refused to turn up in protest at the changes to the legal aid system.
Barristers were staging a second one-day walk-out as part of an unprecedented national campaign. They will also refuse to take on the work of colleagues, which will delay cases being heard.
Barristers say that the changes to their fees will force many of them out of criminal practice – and leave some defendants to represent themselves.
Many solicitors practicing criminal law also stayed away from court in support of the action.
Defendants still had to attend Truro Crown Court and Truro Magistrates' Court because they had to answer bail.
Crown Prosecution Service lawyers were also in attendance, but all cases at Truro Crown Court were adjourned to new dates later this month in the absence of defence barristers and solicitors.
At Truro Magistrates’ Court, the majority of cases went ahead as normal, represented by the single duty solicitor.
Addressing a number of defendants at Truro Crown Court this morning, Recorder Simon Levene said: “Today is a Day of Action for the Bar; all the barristers in the country who practice criminal law have refused to attend court in protest at the government’s proposed cuts to legal aid.
“This Day of Action affects most, if not all, of the cases listed today.”
Recorder Levene reassured defendants – one of whom had travelled to Truro from North Yorkshire for the hearing – that they would not lose any discount to sentence for guilty pleas as a result of the disruption.
Legal aid fees for the most complex cases have already been cut by 30 per cent from December last year.
An initial reduction of 8.75 per cent will apply to new cases starting on or after March 20. There will be another 8.75 per cent reduction in 12 months’ time.
In a statement issued by Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, chairman, Bill Waddington, said: “The lawyers will not be going to court because they can see what the Lord Chancellor refuses to see.
“That is that his attack on a legal profession which represents everyone accused of a crime, be they innocent or guilty, will destroy not only the profession by degrees but also the ability of every citizen to defend themselves when accused of a crime.”