Criminal barristers are to call on the Bar Council to boycott Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s flagship Magna Carta conference in protest at the legal aid cuts. Meanwhile, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) is urging its members not to accept ‘returns’ (which are often done for free or for little money) after the 7 March day of action in order to show support for the criminal Bar. Report by Elizabeth Davidson.
Nigel Lithman QC, chair of the CBA, said: “At a meeting at Lincoln’s Inn, One Bar: one voice, both I and Sarah Forshaw QC agreed that it was an intolerable irony that the government would seek to hold up the British justice system as a leading light at a time when it was dismantling the legal aid system, and the two just couldn’t sit side by side.
“Sarah said she would be asking the Bar Council to disassociate itself from the conference.
“If, in the meantime, the government revises its policy and withdraws the cuts, we will be very supportive of the celebrations.”
The Global Law Summit is a one-off international conference due to be held in London on 23-25 February 2015, to mark 800 years since the sealing of Magna Carta. It was formally announced by Grayling last October. A boycott by the Bar would be a huge embarrassment for the government.
Also speaking at One Bar: one voice, was 23 Essex Street pupil Hannah Evans, who spoke of the financial hardships facing the junior criminal Bar.
Evans, who secured tenancy on the following day, told the conference that a trial fee in the magistrates’ court could be as little as £80 for a full day in court, out of which travel costs would have to be paid.
‘Sometimes, many junior barristers find that they are paying to work: they earn less than it costs them to get to court! With train prices the way they are, you don’t have to travel very far before what you’re being paid for your first appearance or your mention is subsumed by travel costs. I can think of no other word for that than “perverse”.’
Criminal law barristers and solicitors are preparing for another day of action on 9 March, and barristers may refuse to do ‘returns’ after that date.
Writing in his chairman’s blog, Lithman said: ‘Traditionally, criminal barristers have kept the courts running smoothly by covering cases for each other to ensure that every defendant has a barrister in court when the case is called on.
‘This practice of cooperation (known as “returns”) assists in a timely, efficient and cost effective system. This tradition is part of the goodwill provided by the Bar, often for little or no pay. Individual members of the CBA have decided that, with effect from 7 March, they will suspend their willingness to undertake returns for other members of the Bar and will only do their own work.’
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