England: Law firms to begin legal aid boycott

Andrew Caplen
Andrew Caplen, president of the Law Society

Legal firms across England and Wales are starting to refuse work funded by legal aid in protest of an 8.75 per cent cut to legal aid fees for criminal cases.

The reduction in fees is the second major reduction to the legal aid budget since 2014.

Solicitors at firms in Merseyside, Manchester, Yorkshire, Newcastle, Durham and London are among those participating in the protest, which is backed by the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA), the Criminal Law Solicitors Association and the 35-member Big Firms Group.

However, lawyers in Leicester have reportedly opposed the ad hoc boycott.

The Law Society has said it shares “considerable sympathy” with solicitors who are refusing work because of the fee changes.

Andrew Caplen, the president of the Law Society, added: “We also understand the significant anger that exists over the damaging effects of government policy on access to justice, and on dedicated professionals and small businesses who have had no increases to legal aid fees since 1992, and have faced significant cuts.”

Yesterday, the Criminal Bar Association met to review its position on the ongoing solicitors’ protest, but the outcome of that meeting is not yet known.

Jon Black, president of the LCCSA, defended the refusal of work, telling The Guardian: “We have overwhelming support for this action, which regrettably is necessary as a result of the government’s intention to implement the proposed further cuts amounting to over 50% on some cases for January 2016, without carrying out the promised meaningful review.

“Had the government listened to our representations they would know that these cuts are not only unnecessary but dangerous.

“We have drafted a protocol, and firms that seek to act in breach of this are letting themselves, their professional colleagues and their clients down.”

Franklin Sinclair, a senior partner at Tuckers Solicitors and spokesman for the Big Firms Group, told the Financial Times: “The solicitors have never done this on such a basis. Nothing like this has ever happened before.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice insisted the cuts were “challenging” but necessary.

The MoJ spokesperson said: “The changes we are pressing ahead with are designed to ensure we have a system of criminal legal aid that delivers value for money to taxpayers, that provides high-quality legal advice to those that need it most, and that puts the profession on a sustainable footing for the long term.

“Having listened carefully to the case put by the profession we decided not to reduce advocacy fees, but instead to work closely with them to explore alternative ways of securing these savings.

“We have also said that in July 2016 an independent reviewer will assess the impact of the new arrangements.”

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