Weekly round-up 6 -10 January

justice2CLSA chair tells ‘enemies within’ to ‘hang their heads in shame’: The chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA), Bill Waddington, has spoken out against solicitors’ firms who refused to take part in Monday’s half-day of action for short-term gain.  Writing on the CLSA blog, Waddington said that, whilst he knew there would be some firms who would carry on working as normal on the 6th January – ‘as indeed they are entitled to do’ – he had hoped that ‘those firms who chose to do that would do so without seeking to gain some short-term advantage over their competitors.’  He continued: ‘Many firms who worked agreed they would service only their own clients and no-one else’s. And for that I thank you.’  Some firms, however, ‘helped themselves to clients of other firms who were not in attendance and submitted legal aid orders where they were able to do so’, according to Waddington.  ‘Those people should really hang their heads in shame,‘ he said.  ‘They have no place in this honourable profession. May their sleep be forever interrupted.’ Referring to an incident in West Yorkshire and another in Hull, Waddington said: ‘There can be naming and shaming, subject to how people feel about it…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.’ He concluded: ‘We know who are our enemies within.’

CBA Chair corrects legal aid minister on barristers’ fees: The Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, Nigel Lithman QC, wrote an open letter to The Times this week, correcting the legal aid minister’s assertion that the average barrister’s income is £84,000.  Lithman said that he was ‘outraged’ that Shailesh Vara MP stated this figure as a ‘fact’ to television interviewers.  ‘That figure is complete nonsense,’ said Lithman. ‘Mr Vara referred to a recent Ministry of Justice “ad hoc statistical release” as the source. The report clearly states that the average fee income is £60,000, excluding VAT. This figure does not equate to real income, because out of it business costs have to be paid, i.e, staff costs, premises, travel, books, courses, IT and phones, professional insurance, Bar Council fees, etc, which will account for about 30 per cent of fee income.’ Lithman went on to assert that, according to research conducted by the Bar Council, ‘the average earnings of the average barrister are £27,000 before tax and for many significantly less.’  Barristers are not seeking a wage increase, said Lithman; they are simply requesting that the Lord Chancellor make ‘no more cuts.’ He concluded: ‘All we ask is that the Government engages constructively with us rather than peddling inaccurate figures, otherwise our protest is bound to continue. We are about to lose something very precious and we owe it to the public to prevent that happening.

Law Society reiterates opposition to fee cuts: The Law Society’s head of legal aid policy, Richard Miller, gave his first speech since last month’s special general meeting of the Society, The Law Society Gazette reported this week. Speaking at an event organised jointly by the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) and the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA), which took place during Monday’s mass walk-out, Miller said that the Society had ‘taken on board’ what was said at the SGM. ‘We don’t want our members to feel excluded from their representative body.  That isn’t how a representative body should work. This is why we are working hard on remedying how we communicate with you,’ he said. Miller told the meeting that the Society had planned ‘a lot more meetings with members‘ in the coming weeks. But he added: ‘It’s a two-way street. We can’t talk to you if you aren’t prepared to meet us. So please let me know if you want us to come and see you.‘  Miller reiterated the Society’s opposition to the fee cuts, stating: ‘It never will and we will never miss an opportunity to stress this to the government.‘ He also reminded the meeting of the ‘significant concessions‘ that had been won by negotiating with the government – namely the removal of price-competitive tendering and restoration of client choice.  ‘PCT is off the table. That was members’ single biggest desire and it is wrong for some to suggest that PCT was going to fall away. It was not. It was defeated by the powerful combination of negotiating and campaigning by the Law Society and our members, including the valuable work of the practitioner groups.‘ Miller reportedly pledged to continue to push the government for more concessions.

Franklin Sinclair: legal aid protest a ‘waste of time’: The senior partner of Tuckers, the biggest criminal legal aid firm in the country, described Monday’s day of action by criminal lawyers as ‘a waste of time and possibly counter-productive’, the Solicitors’ Journal reported this week.  Sinclair said that all of Tuckers’ solicitors attended court on the morning of 6th January, despite having been given the choice not to.  ‘They did not join the pickets or placard-carriers’, said Sinclair.  Sinclair criticised the protest for being ‘very barrister-dominated’: ‘I don’t think the best way to get public sympathy is having a lot of fairly posh people with wigs standing in front of courts.  They’re not the people who get up at three in the morning to deal with drunk or mentally ill people at police stations.’  Sinclair went on to say that he would be in favour of a full day’s protest every month which would be ‘much more of a threat’ to the system.  ‘I’m not advocating it, but it would have to be more organised, with solicitors and barristers together,’ he said.  He also put forward his support for the idea of a work to rule, aimed at the CPS – something he advocated for ‘many years ago’.  ‘We don’t need to strike, but just withdraw our help from the criminal justice system,’ said Sinclair. ‘You must get everyone signed up and give them clear instructions on what they have to do and what they don’t need to do. People would do their duties under the criminal legal aid contract and as an officer of the court, but nothing above that. We can be totally unhelpful and stroppy as long as we fulfil those two obligations.’

Michael Mansfield QC: cuts to legal aid are an attack on the poor: Veteran human rights barrister Michael Mansfield QC this week told The Mirror that cases like the Stephen Lawrence inquiry ‘will become a thing of the past’ if the proposed further cuts to legal aid are implemented.  Mansfield also warned of the increased difficulty for miscarriage of justice victims ‘to mount an application for leave to appeal’ following the cuts.  ‘Legal aid cuts will also affect ordinary people in all areas of the law,” said Mansfield. ‘Employment, family, housing, council tax summonses, the Bedroom Tax…’  Mansfield’s radical chambers, Tooks, was forced to close last year as a result of ongoing cuts to legal aid – which was ‘devastating’ for Mansfield.  ‘I’ve felt very angry….But I will continue to fight on,‘ he said.  In response to Monday’s unprecedented mass walk-out by criminal lawyers across the country, Mansfield said: ‘I know lawyers who are so demoralised they don’t even want to get up in the morning. They have spent years training, years building a practice, now they are seeing their careers being wiped away. But this is not really about lawyers – it’s about what all of us stand to lose.’  On his new ‘virtual’ chambers, Mansfield Chambers, he said: ‘There’s a door people can knock on. There’s a conference space and space for people to use laptops and iPads. It’s a different way of doing things.’

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