On 1st July 2015 many Criminal solicitors across the country began an indefinite boycott of Legal Aid work to demonstrate their opposition to the imposition of an 8.75% cut in the rates of Legal Aid.
After an initial cut of 8.75% in rates in March 2014, the Lord Chancellor announced that a full review would take place before a final decision was made on whether a further cut would be imposed on criminal lawyers. This review would among other things, assess the impact of other savings made in the criminal justice system and the impact upon firms of the initial cut.
Despite government data indicating that substantial savings have already been made and despite a lack of any real investigation of the negative impact on firms, the Lord Chancellor decided to ‘press ahead’ with the second cut last month.
This was not the review that lawyers were promised.
The second cut in rates was originally designed to coincide with the commencement of new contracting arrangements with a smaller number of firms. It was argued that firms that were successful in securing contracts could bear a further cut because they would have the benefit of greater volumes of work.
In fact, the imposition of the cut now means that firms will have to shoulder reduced fees for a further six months without any increase in work. The new contracts are not expected to commence until January 2016 putting firms under huge additional pressure.
This was not the Government’s original position.
Understandably, the Government’s actions have caused outrage and dismay within the Legal Aid world. From the 1st July many lawyers have joined in protest at the cuts and have decided that they will refuse to undertake new work from that date.
TV Edwards, whilst opposing the Government’s actions considers its primary duty to be to its clients and we will not refuse to represent our own clients at courts and police stations as some firms have done. We do not think it is fair to put our own clients at risk through this action where those clients have shown such loyalty to us. We will not seek to benefit from the fact that other firms may turn away work by taking that work on ourselves. We will not therefore attempt to take on any client of another firm during this period of action.
We will comply with our contractual requirement to undertake Duty work and we will represent our own clients. We will refer any other individuals who may approach us to their firm of choice and it is thereafter a matter for those firms if they chose to represent them or not.
We cannot justify abandoning our clients in the short term in the hope that a longer term benefit can be achieved from doing so. We are dedicated to ensuring our loyal staff have a future both in the short and long term within the profession. We cannot meet those commitments by an indefinite strike which hurts both our staff and clients in equal measure.
We respect the decisions of those firms to register their protest by boycotting work just as much as we share their opposition to the Government’s actions.
A letter before action pursuant to Judicial Review proceedings has now been hand delivered to the Lord Chancellor’s office on behalf of the Big Firms Group – an association of large criminal practices of which we are one. We support this action and sincerely hope that it will persuade the government to reconsider the deeply misguided and damaging approach it has taken to date.
We maintain our opposition to the cuts in both criminal and civil legal aid and we maintain our commitment to access to justice.