The chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association has hit out at law firms that sought to take advantage of their rivals’ absence from court during Monday’s morning of action against the legal aid cuts.
Bill Waddington said “there can be naming and shaming, subject to how people feel about it”.
Writing on the CLSA website following the high-profile action, when solicitors supported criminal barristers not appearing in court by taking part in a training day, Mr Waddington acknowledged that firms had been entitled to carry on working as normal on 6 January, and thanked those that had only served their own clients, rather than anyone else’s.
He said: “Sadly, and I’m afraid to say inevitably, some saw this as an opportunity for a short-term gain, a chance to show their protesting opponents how fickle clients can be, when persuaded to sign the handful of legal aid applications you took to court with you.
“One incident I know about in West Yorkshire where one firm did attend court and always declared that it was going to do so but nevertheless also helped itself to clients of other firms who were not in attendance and submitted legal aid orders where they were able to do so. Those people should really hang their heads in shame. They have no place in this honourable profession. May their sleep be forever interrupted…
“Actions like this leave a very bad taste in the mouth and damage co-operation within communities but we are bigger than that and the clock cannot be turned back. We know who are our enemies within.”
However, Mr Waddington emphasised that it was only a small minority that had acted this way, describing 6 January as “clearly a resounding success” that attracted largely sympathetic media coverage.
“The odd dissenter cannot run the criminal justice system. Given the success of [Monday], there will be more training days,” he said. “I hope that areas, firms, individual solicitors who decided for whatever reason not to participate in the historic events of 6 January 2014 will give more thought to the government’s proposals next time.”
Mr Waddington, who is head of criminal defence at Hull firm Williamsons, also welcomed indications that the Ministry of Justice is “thinking carefully about what happens next”, given that it was initially supposed to have responded to its most recent consultation on the reforms by 18 December, which then became 7 January and is now looking like the end of the month.
“We know that the figures produced by Otterburn from the financial information supplied by over 100 firms have cast a very big cloud over the MoJ’s proposals to cut and consolidate in this fragile market of ours,” he said.
“We also know that there are some strong financial arguments under discussion which hopefully will go to demonstrate that the ‘required savings of £220 million by 2018’ are not required. It has always been the argument of the CLSA that if savings are necessary then they can be found in the wastage and inefficiencies within the system that we are only too happy to identify to the MOJ, if indeed it is savings they are really after.
“We have also consistently argued that cuts made in the previous three years are still working their way through the system and that, combined with a reduction in charging of offenders, considerable savings are already working their way through the system.”