For the first time in their history, criminal lawyers have gone on strike as courts sat empty on the morning of 6th January. The legal profession has taken aim at proposed cuts to legal aid funding, which they argue would not only see the profession suffer, but would also lead to a poorer quality of service for those that require criminal defence. Lawyers say that the £220m cuts would see their fees fall by as much as 30% while reducing the availability of representation for defendants.
In April 2013, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced cuts to the civil legal aid bill that would eventually save a total of £320m. In order to further reduce the £2bn bill faced by taxpayers, Mr Grayling has also announced that he intends to cut £220m from the criminal legal aid bill too. While this would, in theory, save around a quarter of the legal aid bill, there are many proponents that argue the opposite.
Legal aid work is far from well paid for most lawyers. Falling crime rates means that there is less criminal legal aid work available for those lawyers that do choose this path. Fees have barely risen since the 1990s, either, and this combination means that fewer and fewer bright your legal minds will consider criminal law for their future, especially when met with 17.5% cuts to most legal aid fees.
Barristers also argue that the move will see the public suffer. Fewer barristers means less choice for defendants, and it could be argued that the best minds would have moved to more lucrative fields. Eventually, it is likely that defendants will be left with barristers and solicitors that are still in training, and will be forced to opt for one of only a small number of possible barristers.
The Criminal Bar Association said that the strikes, which took place across cities around England and Wales, had occurred as anger within the industry was at a boiling point. The main protest took place at Southwark Crown Court but courts in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle, Cardiff, and other cities across the country were also left empty.