BARRISTERS ACROSS the United Kingdom last week took off their wigs in protest at the Government’s cuts in legal aid fees.
The United Kingdom Bar Council chairman has urged the UK Government to makes moves to avert a crisis in the criminal courts, expected to be caused by legal aid pay cuts. Guy Mansfield QC asked all sides to work together with the current review of the legal aid pay system, being undertaken by Lord Carter of Coles, in order to deliver an “enduring and stable solution” to the legal aid problems.
Speaking in the week before slashed pay rates were due to take effect, he said “barristers are angry and I share their anger”.
“For some, their treatment at the hands of Government, who imposed unilateral cuts without prior consultation, has been simply too much,” he said. “Many individual barristers may decide on an individual basis not to do publicly-funded criminal work. This is a most unfortunate state of affairs.”
Last month, Mansfield QC urged ministers to help defuse the looming legal aid crisis. With many individual barristers seriously considering whether to refuse new legal aid work, he called on the Department for Constitutional Affairs to reverse “swingeing cuts” to legal aid pay, which he said have led to widespread disaffection at the publicly funded Bar.
“This dispute is nothing to do with a handful of expensive cases. This is about mainstream but serious work. Junior barristers’ pay for short cases lasting up to ten days has been cut by 23 per cent in real terms over the last eight years. On top of that, the Lord Chancellor announced out of the blue before the summer further cuts for cases lasting 11 to 40 days. This will cut pay typically by 15 per cent in cash terms, and by up to 50 per cent for some cases,” he said.
As Lawyers Weekly went to press, there were doubts over how much support the strike had had, but it is understood that most barristers became involved. As well, the effect of the protest on the Government remains to be seen.