Weekly round-up, w/c 30 September

justice2Manchester rally for legal aid: On Sunday lawyers and campaigners gathered outside Manchester Crown Court to protest against government cuts to legal aid – both those already implemented under LASPO and the proposed further cuts.  Speakers at the rally included Labour MP Kate Green, Garden Court North barristers Jared Ficklin and Mark George QC, as well as representatives from campaign groups and advice services in the Manchester area.  John Nicholson, a barrister at Kenworthy’s Chambers said: ‘These cuts aren’t about lawyers’ fees; they’re about hitting the people who are already being hit by all the other cuts to the welfare state.’  The immigration and public law barrister continued: ‘Legal aid is part of that welfare state and people need publicly-funded advice and representation in the same way they need health and education…Eddie Stobart (Briefs on Wheels) or, worse still, G4S cannot be trusted with our legal aid services.’ The rally was organised by the Northern Save Justice Campaign, a group formed to bring together campaigners, community groups, lawyers, trade unionists and other concerned citizens in the Manchester area to unite against cuts to legal aid in. They would like to hear from anyone who can help to campaign against the legal aid cuts in the north of England. You can follow them on Twitter @NorthernJust

Lawyers unite against cuts which are an ‘insult to justice’: Hundreds of solicitors and barristers voted unanimously on Tuesday night to take action against the latest government proposals to reform and cut legal aid.  At a packed meeting organised by the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA) around 500 lawyers united in their refusal to accept the latest fee cuts of at least 17.5 % as it would ‘damage the quality of legal aid services’ and have a ‘disastrous’ impact on access to justice.   Senior ex-appeal court judge Tony Hooper urged lawyers to ‘resolve not to do criminal legal aid work at the reduced level of fees proposed in the recent consultation.’ What form the action will take will be negotiated by the lawyers’ various representative bodies over the coming weeks. The LCCSA’s Paul Harris said: ‘It’s depressing we have reached this stage.  If you are a criminal defence lawyer you believe in justice for all and that people are innocent until proven guilty; we have to stand up and be counted.  These cuts are an insult to justice. The government can’t be allowed to ride roughshod over a vital part of our justice system.’

Transforming Legal Aid consultation deadline extended: The Ministry of Justice has extended the consultation deadline for its Transforming Legal Aid proposals by ten working days.  The deadline has been extended in order to give respondents time to peruse some ‘clarifications and amendments’ which the Ministry has made to the consultation document.  The consultation will now end on 1 November. A summary of the amendments can be found here.

Attorney General: legal aid cuts a ‘painful process’, but Bar is too big: The Attorney General Dominic Grieve has spoken of his sympathy for lawyers affected by the legal aid cuts – but insisted the legal sector cannot be immune from austerity measures.  According to a report in this week’s Law Society Gazette, Grieve expressed his concern that the cuts would increase the number of litigants in person at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester. But he said the cost to the taxpayer of legal aid could not be ignored – and ultimately that the numbers of barristers practising criminal law was too high. ‘The Lord Chancellor is between a rock and a hard place – he has to implement savings which are exceptionally challenging,’ said Grieve. ‘I have never been of the view you can exempt legal aid from that category. I am the first to recognise the Bar and Law Society have a very difficult task and we have to look very carefully at the way it gives rise to an increase in litigants in person. But it’s not an area that can be left out the equation when it has grown so exponentially.’

Criminal lawyer campaigns for vote of no confidence in Law Society leadership: A solicitor advocate in Liverpool is seeking signatures to force a Law Society Emergency General Meeting to debate a motion of no confidence in the Law Society’s leadership, the Solicitors Journal reported this week.  The campaign was sparked by Grayling’s announcement last month that whilst he will abandon price competitive tendering (PCT) for criminal legal aid, he’s planning to introduce a 17.5 per cent cut in criminal legal aid fees instead. Grayling’s announcement was made following talks with the Law Society, though Chancery Lane have said that they oppose the fee cut.  The motion – initiated by James Parry, a partner at Parry Welch Lacey – declares that members have ‘no confidence in the ability’ of Nicholas Fluck, president of the Law Society, and Des Hudson, chief executive, to ‘properly and effectively represent’ legal aid solicitors in negotiations with Grayling. ‘I am told by Des Hudson that he regards what was achieved as the best deal on the table and, without it, PCT would have been imposed on us,’ said Parry.  ‘I am sure that firms will close,’ he continued. ‘The only question is how many will close immediately and how many will struggle on. The cuts imposed will be devastating to the profession.’

UK Uncut roadblocks to go ahead this weekend: Roadblock protests to highlight the impact of the legal aid cuts will go ahead this Saturday, campaign group UK Uncut confirmed this week, as the Justice Secretary reiterated plans to slash legal aid in his speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.  The activists are planning roadblocks in London, Manchester, Cambridge, Hull, Northampton and Norwich (more info here), and have enlisted the support of other direct action groups, including Disabled People Against the Cuts, Plane Stupid and Fuel Poverty Action. UK Uncut spokesperson Jim Thompson said: ‘The government’s proposals will destroy legal aid, blocking access to justice for all but the rich. Changes announced at the beginning of September do not alter the government’s fundamental assault on the foundations of the democratic system through these proposals.’  He continued: ‘The government has refused to listen to the clear opposition to these changes, so it’s time to fight back. UK Uncut’s Roadblocks for Justice protests will happen as planned on October 5th. We know that this will be disruptive. We know that it will stop the traffic. But we know that this kind of direct action works.’


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