The number of chambers across England and Wales refusing to take on legal aid cases has now reached 100. Members of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) are overwhelmingly in support of the action and will look to escalate protests later this month.
The action, which began on 1 April, is in response to the new advocates’ graduated fee scheme (AGFS) which it is believed will result in cuts to legal aid lawyers’ pay. Richard Burgon, the shadow justice secretary, has called for the changes to the scheme to be removed.
“The government should withdraw these controversial changes, go back to the drawing board and come up with a scheme that attracts widespread support rather than provoking a backlash. Our justice system depends on those accused of serious crimes having access to proper legal representation. Without that there is greater risk of miscarriages of justice. This flawed scheme risks causing further damage to our justice system, which is already in a crisis driven by 40% budget cuts – the deepest cuts of any government department.”
A crowdfunding campaign on the CrowdJustice website raised the funds needed to give a copy of The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How it is Broken to every MP, along with a copy of the Young Legal Aid Lawyers’ Social Mobility Report 2018.
Meanwhile, with the lack of legal aid counsel available, an increasing number of defendants are reportedly appearing unrepresented. The Public Defenders Service is said to be ready to start taking on cases.
A spokesperson from the Ministry of Justice said: “Any action to disrupt the courts is unacceptable and we are taking all necessary steps to ensure legal representation is available for defendants in criminal cases,” and described the scheme under which barristers have previously billed legal aid cases as “archaic”.
The chair of the CBA, Angela Rafferty, said: “We remind the government that no barrister wants to take this action. Our repeated calls for a principled and practical solution stand. Justice should be placed in its place. Investment across the system is required.”
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