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Barristers returned 305 instructions in first seven days of protest

Research suggests 'solid support' for Criminal Bar Association's 'no returns' policy

24 March 2014

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Criminal law barristers returned 305 instructions in the first seven days of their 'no returns' protest against the legal aid cuts earlier this month, research for the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has suggested.

The research by barrister Richard Bentwood found that eight of the cases were picked up by Crown Prosecution Service higher court advocates, one by counsel and one by Greg Bull QC (on the insistence of the judge).

Of the remaining 295 cases, 240 were adjourned because of the lack of a defence counsel, in what has become known as a 'Grayling hearing', while 55 hearings went ahead without any defence counsel.

Bentwood found that these mainly consisted of fixing of timetables, setting trial dates or other non-contested matters. Three trials did go ahead - two where the Crown was offering no evidence and one involving Greg Bull QC.

"Anecdotally, from judges and list officers, it is causing great disruption," Bentwood said. "Mood from the troops/solicitors seems to be one of solid support."

The survey covered the first seven days of the 'no returns' policy, from 10 to 18 March. Bentwood said caution was needed in looking at the results, as people had around a month's notice to return matters in advance, not all cases were reported and many cases were being moved administratively, avoiding the need for returns.

Nigel Lithman QC (pictured), chairman of the CBA, said it was clear the policy was having an "ever-increasing effect" and 'no returns' would stay in place for the rest of the month, as previously announced.

Meanwhile he said the CBA was consulting barristers through heads of chambers and CBA representative on the next steps in the campaign against the cuts.

Lithman added that the CBA wanted to express "total support" for solicitor colleagues protesting against the cuts.

"The professions are joined at the heart if not the hip and we have achieved previously unheard of unity," he said. "This is not jeopardised by our taking different steps at different times."

The Criminal Law Solicitors Association and London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association voted last week at a meeting in Manchester on two further days of action, on 31 March and 1 April.

They also voted for a work to rule. One of the motions carried called for 'ultra-compliance with the criminal procedure rules and a total withdrawal of goodwill across every part of the criminal justice system, and there will be no work on any case until a legal aid order is in place'.

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