Circular No: NP/128/15
22nd July 2015
TO ALL BRANCHES, REGIONAL COUNCILS & REGIONAL OFFICES
Re: Direct Action Against Legal Aid Cuts
A dispute has started between Legal Aid Lawyers and the Ministry of Justice. This follows the decision of Mr Gove to implement a further 8.75% cut in Legal Aid rates. The cut was the second tranche of a 17.5% reduction which in itself followed on from 24% cut in the period 2010-2014. Taking inflation into account as well, Legal Aid has effectively suffered cuts of 50% in recent years. The further cuts are to fees for police station attendances, Magistrates Court and Crown Court cases.
The cuts will devastate the Criminal Justice System, increase miscarriages of justice and deny justice to those who cannot afford a private defence lawyer.
At meetings held across the country, criminal legal aid lawyers, including our lawyers Powell Spencer and Thompsons voted in favour of direct action against the government decision to impose a further 8.75% cut in Legal Aid payments from the 1st July 2015. Our lawyers claim that the levels of funding forced on the profession without consultation are untenable and, together with the two tier contract scheme, the MOJ risk damage to the Criminal Justice system.
Our members will get caught up in this dispute, as from the 1st July 2015 it is proposed that although lawyers will continue to undertake duty scheme work they will withdraw from all new legal aid funded cases. This will affect especially those members who use Powell Spencer direct through the criminal help line number and instruct Powell Spencer privately for non-work related matters. From the above date those lawyers signed up to the campaign will not attend at the police station to represent suspects being interviewed. If they are under arrest they will be offered the service of the local duty solicitor however we anticipate this will involve a significant delay as there will only be a limited number of duty solicitors dealing with all suspects in custody at each police station.
The options for individuals at the police station therefore are to ask for the duty solicitor, to pay privately, to represent themselves or to ask for the matter to be adjourned so that they can arrange representation.
If the matter relates to work related criminal cases then the system remains the same in so far as members seeking assistance from the Union to pay for their Defences must still use the criminal helpline number in the first instance and seek preliminary advice as usual. Thereafter, if assistance is sought from the Union then the Branch Secretary must make a request to the General Secretary for such help ; giving brief details as to the charge and dates of court/ appearances and why the Branch consider the member should be supported.
If the Union decides not too financially support or in the case of non-work related criminal charges but the member chooses Powell Spencer to represent them they will charge the member the same as the Legal Aid fee.
Our lawyers will not apply for Legal Aid in any new cases before the Magistrates Court, while the dispute is ongoing. This is unlikely to affect the majority of our members as they are ineligible in any event because they earn in excess of the £12,000 (which is the current means test limit imposed by the last Government).
Our Legal Department will work closely with Powell Spencer and in some instances it may require our legal team to take some cases in-house.
The 24 hour help line will continue to operate except that members will be informed of funding as outlined above i.e. use the duty solicitor, fund themselves, represent themselves or apply for an adjournment . Branch Secretaries should expect an increase in Requests.
This is an extremely important dispute. The combined effects of the action of solicitors and barristers will be to cause a considerable degree of chaos in police stations, Magistrates Courts and especially Crown Courts.
I will keep you advised of developments. I would be grateful if you could bring the contents of this Circular to the attention of your Branch members.