Criminal lawyers who provided extra staff at court on 6 January to exploit the national protest and gain extra clients ‘should hang their heads in shame’, Bill Waddington, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association (CLSA) has said.
Such behaviour ‘left a bad taste in the mouth’ and there could be ‘naming and shaming’ of firms such as the ones in south Yorkshire and Hull who took on other firms’ clients. Nevertheless, speaking from the monthly CLSA meeting today, he said members had been ‘very pleased’ with the protest, which saw thousands of solicitors and barristers opting not to attend court.
The strong turnout and generally positive media response to the campaign may have caused the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to again postpone its response to the consultation – a delay which ‘can only give cause for optimism’, Waddington said.
However, it is ‘likely’ that another protest day will take place, should the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) not change course, ‘ideally a couple of weeks after the government’s response to the consultation’, which is expected towards the end of January. He added there will be ongoing meetings between the CLSA, London Criminal Court Solicitors Association, Criminal Bar Association and Legal Aid Practitioners Group to determine what happens next.
Writing in his chairman’s blog on the CLSA website this week, Waddington said: ‘Remember [the MoJ] were due to respond to the consultation by the 18 December.
‘That slipped to the 7 January and it has slipped further again to what we are told is likely to be “towards the end of January”.That slippage can only be due to the fact that the MoJ has got plenty to think about. I am not going to criticise them for thinking carefully about what happens next. They need to think carefully, very carefully.
‘We know that the figures produced by Otterburn from the financial information supplied by over 100 firms have cast a very big cloud over the MOJ’s proposals to cut and consolidate in this fragile market of ours.We also know that there are some strong financial arguments under discussion which hopefully will go to demonstrate that the “required savings of £220 million by 2018” are not required.
‘We have also consistently argued that cuts made in the previous three years are still working their way through the system and that, combined with a reduction in charging of offenders, considerable savings are already working their way through the system.’
However, he criticised those who took advantage of the situation on 6 January.
‘Many firms who worked agreed they would service only their own clients and no-one else’s. And for that I thank you,’ he said.
‘Sadly, and I’m afraid to say that inevitably some saw this as an opportunity for a short term gain, a chance to show their protesting opponents how fickle clients can be, when persuaded to sign the handful of legal aid applications you took to court with you.
‘There can be naming and shaming, subject to how people feel about it. One incident I know about in [south] Yorkshire where one firm did attend court and always declared that it was going to do so but nevertheless also helped itself to clients of other firms who were not in attendance and submitted legal aid orders where they were able to do so.
‘Those people should really hang their heads in shame. They have no place in this honourable profession. May their sleep be forever interrupted.
‘In my own town of Hull, we knew of one firm that was intent on working. There was an ideal opportunity in Hull for serious disruption to be caused. The firm that was due to be duty solicitor went out of business on the 29th December with doors officially closed as they were unable to obtain insurance. The LAA failed to arrange for a replacement duty solicitor.
‘The firm which decided to work however took on the role of duty solicitor on the day and for reasons best known to itself provided not one but in fact three duty solicitors to cover the work that would normally be covered just by one. With no other solicitors present at court it is not difficult to see what their intentions were.
‘Actions like this leave a very bad taste in the mouth and damage co-operation within communities but we are bigger than that and the clock cannot be turned back. We know who are our enemies within.’
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