The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has announced a morning of ‘non-attendance’ on the first day of the new court term next year in a major escalation of its opposition to the government’s legal aid cuts.
In a message to members today, CBA chairman Nigel Lithman QC said: “Some members of the CBA have decided that they will no longer be available/will not work during the morning of 6 January, but will be available to attend court from 2pm only on that day.
“Those of you who want to show your support will decide for yourselves whether you too will choose to work for the first half of that day or only as from 2pm. We hope that judges will be sympathetic to applications for a 2pm start. This appears to be a wholly reasonable and proportionate response to the conduct of the Ministry of Justice.”
Mr Lithman said that “as a matter of courtesy” he has notified the Lord Chief Justice, the Recorder of London and Common Serjeant, and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
“The circuit leaders and CBA propose to draft a protocol concerning that day and cooperate with courts to ensure nobody’s liberty is compromised… I will speak again to the DPP about prosecutors. But like defence counsel, they must choose their own course.”
Mr Lithman said the action, if supported by CBA members, “will show the sincerity and strength of feeling among the criminal bar and it will demonstrate the importance of the role played by criminal advocates in the efficient disposal of criminal cases.
“Put another way, it will give a glimpse of the future if our profession is dismantled into non-existence.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Barristers in very high cost cases are well rewarded. Around two-thirds receive fee incomes of over £100,000, and often well-over that. Even after our changes they would continue to be generously paid – both for VHCCs and in AGFS cases.
“We have consulted on two options for reducing wider advocacy fees – including a brand new model based on the CPS system specifically requested by barristers – [and] for example, the reduction in trial fees suggested were options of 8% or 11%. We are carefully considering the responses to the consultation on those options before reaching a final decision.
“Disruption to court schedules is unnecessary, and barristers choosing to do so inconvenience their clients and hard-working taxpayers.”