Criminal barristers have gone on strike for the second time over legal aid cuts.
The Government is aiming to reduce £220m from the £2bn annual cost of legal aid. The reforms which are to come into force in April have been heavily criticised by those who work in the justice system.
Tensions have been rising after it was confirmed last week by the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, that money will be removed from the annual criminal legal aid budget and the number of duty lawyers’ contracts reduced by a third. Legal aid fees will fall by on average 6% for barristers and 17.5% for solicitors.
Solicitors and barristers have expressed their concern that the standard of legal representation will fall as a result of the cuts and that justice will become a privilege rather than a right.
The first strike took place in January when many criminal case workers, including barristers and solicitors, refused to attend court.
On Friday 7th March 2014 legal professionals staged another walk out, refusing to attend courts in cities including London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool. The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) estimated up to 3,000 of its barrister members took part.
Hundreds of lawyers marched to Westminster in protest. Accompanying them was Maxine Peake, the actress who plays Martha Costello QC in the TV drama about criminal barristers, Silk.
The CBA’s Nigel Lithman QC said: “If these cuts are not addressed, then the British justice system, which is held in such high esteem around the world, will cease to exist as we know it and the British public can no longer expect true justice to be delivered.”
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The effect will be crippling. It means people of social diversity will not be able to come to the Bar, will not be able to go into criminal law.”
He added the effect of payment cuts to solicitors would mean “one third of them will go out of business and people coming from university will simply choose not to go into the criminal justice system because they won’t be able to afford to”.