The solicitor behind the special general meeting (SGM) on the Law Society’s strategy in its campaign against criminal legal aid cuts, has called for the resignation of president Nick Fluck, claiming he has “underwritten” the government’s reforms.
In a letter to Mr Fluck, James Parry, the Liverpool criminal defence practitioner who proposed the motion of no-confidence at the SGM – which was narrowly carried in December – said Chancery Lane’s ‘constructive engagement’ approach to resisting the cuts had provided the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, with a “veneer of respectability”.
Mr Parry, a partner with Parry Welch Lacey LLP, accused the society of failing to “listen and react” to the concerns expressed at the SGM.
He observed that in the government’s response to the consultation on legal aid cuts, it had referred repeatedly to the Law Society’s “helpful stance” in reaching its conclusions. He dismissed concessions offered by the government after lobbying from Chancery Lane as inadequate.
He went on: “What you have achieved will force many longstanding criminal practices out of business. Dedicated lawyers and support staff will be made redundant and some practice owners will face bankruptcy and the loss of their homes as well as their businesses.”
“Given your failure to respond to the concerns that were set out before you at the SGM and your failure to deliver any improvement in what the Lord Chancellor has to offer, the time has surely come for you and Mr Hudson to resign. Putting the profession to the expense of a further SGM would be an inappropriate liberty on your part.”
Speaking to Legal Futures, Mr Parry said criminal practitioners were “hopping mad” at the government’s response. He accused Mr Fluck of having “underwritten” Mr Grayling’s response, making it necessary for those who “want to continue to fight” to distance themselves from the society.
He observed that Mr Grayling would be mindful that a general election was coming up and “the mood is for fighting” among barristers and solicitors. “I think we are facing our Dunkirk, as it were, and if we don’t fight and make our case then we will be trampled on.”
The Law Society declined to comment on the letter when contacted yesterday.
Criminal defence lawyers plan to hold a national day of protest against the cuts tomorrow. On Tuesday, the Criminal Bar Association’s (CBA) chairman, Nigel Lithman QC, said the association’s executive would not accept any brief to which legal aid cuts had been applied. He reported a CBA policy, starting on 10 March, of no ‘returns’ – cooperation between barristers that means every defendant is represented – had wide support and predicted it would “quickly impact on the functioning of the courts”.
Mr Lithman said that if after a month of no returns there had been no change in the government’s attitude, there would be a “period of escalation” lasting until the summer. He said he had already received three e-mails from people no longer able to remain at the criminal bar as a result of the cuts.
At a Law Society meeting in London this week, Mr Fluck acknowledged the “profound impact” of the changes and noted that Mr Grayling had been prepared only to make a “few amendments” to his policy.
At the same meeting, chief executive, Des Hudson, who was also the subject of the SGM’s no-confidence motion, explained that Chancery Lane had sought throughout to oppose the cuts, but “with engagement”. He said the society had concluded that Mr Grayling was “politically secure” in forcing through the cuts, in part because he did not require House of Commons approval.
He added that practitioner groups and local law societies had by a “considerable majority” urged the society to “continue to engage” with the government.
He pointed out the government had agreed to accept contract bids from “informal consortia” of firms, which the society estimated could mean up to 800 firms could be involved, although many of the estimated 1,600 criminal firms would not.
Head of legal aid, Richard Miller, said the society would be pressing the government to explain how the scheme would work in relation to procurement in London, the new contract terms, how duty slots would be allocated, and so on.