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Cornish courts disrupted as lawyers walk out in protest against legal aid cuts

By CMJohannaCarr  |  Posted: March 07, 2014

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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.”

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4 comments

  • TWINSCREW  |  March 10 2014, 2:08PM

    "sunshine100" Spoken from the heart I'm sure but your syntax and grammar needs some more work. All the best.

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  • sunshine100  |  March 10 2014, 1:33PM

    Those of us that undertake legal aid work do not do so for the "lucrative income," in fact we receive far a lucrative income. We work with some of the most vulnerable, difficult and dangerous members of our society. We represent those from ALL background from a spectrum of offences. I don't expect anyone to appreciate the work that we do, for few people do until the time that they are sitting in the police station, or are to appear before the Court for the first time. I imagine that you are unaware of the significant and consist cuts that we have already sustained over previous years. Legal Aid work has been for some time, undertaken on a fixed fee basis, there is no culture of "money is no object." Whether we attend the Police Station once, twice, five times we receive the same fee. That fee goes towards the travel time to and from the police station, time attending on the Police, time attending on the client, time spent completing the interview as well as dealing with any bail issues, and if the client is bailed to return all that all over again! Even at 4am in the morning, the fee is the same. That is regardless of whether it is a murder, a rape or a shoplifting. We can spend hours at the police station for no extra cost. I would say pretty good value. All legal aid at Court is means tested. Those that are eligible to make a contribution in Crown Court cases are required to pay a proportion of their costs according to their means. Those that are ineligible in the Magistrates Court, have to pay. As for not finding poor solicitors, having undertaken 4 years academic training and a two year training contract on little over the minimum wage, one might expect to receive a fair wage in return. How else are we to pay towards the substantial student loans incurred to be able to qualify? Contrary to popular belief not all lawyers come from a background where we are subsidised by our parents or a trust fund! The average wage of a criminal solicitor is far below what I imagine you believe it to be. Why don't you ask one? I'm sure they will tell you. As criminal solicitors we are not good at marketing ourselves, The public perceive that we get the innocent off on loop holes in the law, but don't hold our poor marketing skills against us. Perhaps the Hillsborough, Pleb Gate and Stephen Lawrence enquiries have escaped notice. This can happen on a much small day to day scale too, unpleasant as it may be to hear. We are not greedy fat cats. We must however be able to justify our our love and belief in our work with a wage above minimum wage. Without it no one will be able to afford to join the profession and no one will about to represent those that need it most!

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  • josdave  |  March 07 2014, 3:25PM

    I agree they will have to face change, and I also have not seen a poor solicitor, but the legal aid system does need to be reformed as it cannot be right for someone like Steven Gerrard to get legal aid and he is not the only high paid footballer to get this. It should be for those who cannot afford to take on a case where the defendant will have an expensive solicitor against them.

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  • mickey55  |  March 07 2014, 1:53PM

    Legal aid has been a very lucrative source of income for solicitors for very little effort. once again the hard pushed taxpayer has been funding an institution with the old attitude money is no object when it comes to solicitors fees, financial times have changed and they will have to live with change. I have come into contact with many solicitors and I haven't found a poor one yet or one who has had struggle.

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