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More than 1,000 lawyers protest outside parliament at legal aid cuts

(76 Posts)
ttosca Fri 07-Mar-14 18:38:56

Former Tory MP Sir Ivan Lawrence QC tells protesters he is ashamed of government for 'destroying criminal justice system'


More than 1,000 barristers and solicitors – many bearing placards declaring "Grayling must go" and accompanied by a giant, papier-mache effigy of the justice secretary – have protested outside parliament at cuts to criminal legal aid in their first full-day walkout.

Sir Ivan Lawrence QC, the former Conservative MP, told the demonstration he was ashamed of the government's destruction of the justice system. Across England and Wales thousands of prosecutions were interrupted or postponed as defendants were left without legal representation.

The disruption will continue for several weeks as barristers refuse to accept "returns" – cases that they would normally cover when other members of their chambers are unable to attend court.

The scale of the protest was intended to send a message to Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, that the £215m cut to the annual criminal legal aid budget will drive many solicitors and barristers out of the profession and leave defendants without expert lawyers to argue their cases. Barristers and solicitors are facing average fee cuts of 6% and 17.5% respectively.

At the rally, which took place opposite the House of Commons, Lawrence said: "I'm ashamed of this government. I have been a Conservative for 60 years of my life. Never has there been a demonstration like this. It's atrocious that this government has forced us to come and behave like this.

"All my life I have been opposed to strikes and industrial action that are not justified. This action is justified. [The government] think we don't have any resolve. We are going resolved to stop them destroying the criminal justice system which my party, supporting law and order, has held so dear."

Senior QCs, human rights leaders, barristers in wigs and gowns, solicitors and supporters held placards declaring: "Fight for legal aid," "Save UK justice" and "Be afraid without legal aid."

The actor Maxine Peake, who plays barrister Martha Costello in the TV series Silk, supported the protest. She said: "[Martha] would not have been able to join the Bar if she was starting out now. There would be no opportunity for her."

The Criminal Bar Association said almost 2,000 fewer cases had been scheduled to be heard at crown courts on Friday compared to the previous Friday as court clerks and judges re-arranged their lists to avoid hearing cases where defendants would be left unrepresented.

Nigel Lithman QC, the chairman of the CBA, said: "If these cuts are not addressed then the British justice system, which is held in such high esteem around the world, will cease to exist as we know it and the British public can no longer expect true justice to be delivered."

ttosca Fri 07-Mar-14 18:39:02

Tory scum.

nennypops Fri 07-Mar-14 22:48:54

Of course.

We are getting to the point where no-one will be able to contemplate going to the criminal Bar unless they have independent means. In turn that is going to mean an awful lot of incompetent criminal barristers and a very small pool from which to appoint barristers. I don't really see how the justice system can survive.

CogitoErgoSometimes Sat 08-Mar-14 11:31:14

Are we really upset that lawyers have to charge less? hmm

Viviennemary Sat 08-Mar-14 11:32:45

Sorry I just can't feel sorry for them. They've been on the gravy train for long enough.

ParsingFancy Sat 08-Mar-14 11:38:09

A lot of criminal barristers are working for minimum wage or less, IIRC, Viviennemary. Especially the ones who do their job thoroughly by putting the hours in.

There was an eye-opening thread about this before. I was gob-smacked.

It's certainly not the picture the govt and some parts of the media like to present.

LCHammer Sat 08-Mar-14 11:44:01

Minimum wage? Are you joking?

Funny how the old Tory was against strikes all his life 'when not justified'. But now he sees the point in them.

That said, I have seen some negative effects on people struggling as they can't afford representation.

Viviennemary Sat 08-Mar-14 11:52:27

I do feel sympathy for people who do not deserve to have their legal aid cut. But certainly not for the lawyers. They are certainly doing themselves no favours with these protests. They are getting no sympathy from most people.

ParsingFancy Sat 08-Mar-14 11:53:42

There we go AIBU To tell you why criminal barristers are staging a "walk out" tomorrow.

The OP of that thread is working 60 hours a week for a pre-tax income of £23K a year. (Read down, as she muddled figures in OP.)

Going to attract the brightest and best? Hardly. The system's on the verge of falling over. Which will matter to all of us the day we're either a victim or accused of something (particularly wrongly accused, as happens even with the best will in the world).

ParsingFancy Sat 08-Mar-14 11:56:06

£23 000 /yr for 60 hrs/wk for 52 wks/yr = £7.37 /hr, with no sick pay or holiday.

I was shocked too.

LCHammer Sat 08-Mar-14 11:57:33

I'll give that a read. It's unbelievable. But then not all doctors are on 200K salaries, not all teachers work 9-3 etc etc. A bit of the old divide and conquer and politics of envy.

I was just pointing out the lack of empathy and understanding of why others in the past may also have felt the need to strike.

ParsingFancy Sat 08-Mar-14 11:58:19

NMW = £6.31 /hr.

So similar figure, but most employees get paid holiday & sick pay.

ParsingFancy Sat 08-Mar-14 12:02:59

Yep, govt exactly playing divide and conquer.

IIRC, in that thread there are links to govt statements saying "X minority of barristers earn Y big amounts"

So they're exactly trotting out the "doctors earn £200K" misdirection.

ParsingFancy Sat 08-Mar-14 12:04:28

Heh, the lack of empathy about others' strikes raised a wry snurk here, as well...

CogitoErgoSometimes Sat 08-Mar-14 12:46:55

Maybe some choose to slum it early in their careers (like the rest of us when we're getting experience) but don't most end up practising privately and coining it in? On the few occasions I've ever need legal help (and I don't qualify for legal aid) it's cost me an arm and a leg.

ReindeerBollocks Sat 08-Mar-14 12:55:20

I think it's a fucking cheek that most people think practice owners are cashing in. Not a chance if they owe a criminal firm. You clearly don't know anyone who owns a criminal law firm.

I work in crime ( and I get less than NMW). I know a lot of lawyers who've trained for 7+ years working for 25K.

Practice owners can't continue with the proposed pay cut of 17.5%. Lawyers never went into crime because it's well paid - comparatively to civil law it's paid a pittance. But most practitioners believe in the justice system.

I was on the marches yesterday. After the march was a meeting with both solicitors and barristers of all levels. A junior barrister was in tears about the proposed strikes as she is struggling to afford to live now - she told us how far she was from earning a decent living. I know several junior barristers who have second jobs in the evening and they acknowledge they'd earn more in Tescos.

Is this what we want from people who are professionally trained to do a very important and highly skillful job.

Oh no let's just crow about fat cat lawyers - anyone who still thinks this is just an ignorant fuckwit.

ReindeerBollocks Sat 08-Mar-14 12:59:59

And another thing - It was actually agreed we'd never get public support - too much fed to the media about how much solicitors make.

We acknowledge this - we've stopped trying. Criminal practitioners need to just unite against Grayling and discussions are underway.

Btw - does everyone always object to paying for a professional service? I don't moan when I need a kitchen fitter/builder/accountant/restaurantor? Oh no let's just moan about the legal professionals.

Viviennemary Sat 08-Mar-14 13:16:41

Money for builders, kitchens, accountants and so on doesn't usually come out of the public purse. The legal aid system is well overdue for reform.

traviata Sat 08-Mar-14 13:17:06

"On the few occasions I've ever need legal help (and I don't qualify for legal aid) it's cost me an arm and a leg"

Cogito, did your solicitor have an office? a telephone? a secretary? professional insurance? regular professional training to keep up to speed? law text books and journals? an office cleaner, rates, water rates, a drinking water machine?did s/he travel to court? any trainees in the office? do you think the office staff may have pensions, sick pay & maternity pay?

if you had a barrister, did you realise that s/he pays at least 20% of all earnings to chambers,and insurance, training, subscriptions, on top of that, with no pension & no sick pay?

did you really think that every penny of the fee goes straight into the lawyer's pocket for them to keep?

CogitoErgoSometimes Sat 08-Mar-14 13:24:42

I have no idea where the money I paid went. I needed a lawyer & paid what appeared to be the going rate for one who was recommended. Judging by the car he arrived at the court in, he was doing OK out of it.

LCHammer Sat 08-Mar-14 13:28:11

Are there any official stats regarding pay? I've read some of the last thread and still find it hard to believe this is the usual pay. I don't want to be swayed just by the eloquence of trained professionals on this thread. I agree with the general principle if strike, though, as I've said up thread from the beginning. The exact numbers are probably not that meaningful.

ReindeerBollocks Sat 08-Mar-14 13:32:33

Vivienne most practitioners agree that reforms need to be made, but there are several ways that it can be done without destroying the whole system.

And people object to paying for any legal service - public purse or not.

Doctors are also paid by the public purse and are a professional body - shall we cut their wages for fun too?

CelticPromise Sat 08-Mar-14 13:36:13

I've practised as a criminal lawyer. As a paralegal I earned £11k. As a trainee £16k. When I qualified £25k. As a duty solicitor £35k. Bear in mind that it takes a minimum of seven years from A levels to qualify as duty and that someone's liberty may depend on the advice you give. The partners at my firm were hardly raking it in- in a quiet month it was a stretch to pay the staff. Legal aid rates haven't gone up since the 90s, even before the cuts began.

It's not just about the payment cuts. It's also about the structure of payments eg fixed fees regardless of length of trial etc. Lawyers have a professional duty to act on the instructions of their clients- this is going to get very difficult when you know every trial is going to be run at a loss. There are plenty of dodgy firms Out there already who circumvent the duty rules and pressure their staff to lean on clients to plead guilty. They are the only ones who will thrive under the new regime.

Most legal aid lawyers don't end up coining it in private practice. It tends to be a vocation if you want to do legal aid.

CelticPromise Sat 08-Mar-14 13:37:23

The rates I have described are the going rates for London. Junior barristers generally earn less.

PastPerfect Sat 08-Mar-14 14:24:30

I'll post what I posted on the last thread.

If you are a rape victim and your case goes to court it is likely that the barrister prosecuting the case will be earning less per hour than the juror. If you think that is right, that people presenting serious criminal cases should be paid that poorly then by all means support the cuts.

If on the other hand you think that we should have a justice system staffed by bright, educated and passionate practitioners, that your access to and quality of your defence should you ever need it shouldn't be dependent on your ability to pay for it then read the other thread - linked - and come back when you understand the facts.

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