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Solicitors ‘angry and despondent’ after Grayling’s deal with legal aid barristers

Criminal Bar Association suspends protests after concessions give it '89 per cent'

27 March 2014

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The united front of criminal lawyers opposed to the government's legal aid cuts broke down spectacularly this afternoon when barristers agreed to suspend further protests after concessions from the justice secretary.

Nigel Lithman QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), said those of his members not involved in very high cost cases had obtained "89 per cent" of what they wanted. In return, the CBA agreed to abandon its 'no returns' policy.

Concessions included a postponement of advocacy fee cuts until next summer, at the earliest, and a review of the 30 per cent fee cut for VHCC cases. The 8.75 per cent cut in solicitors' fees, which came into force last week, will remain.

Bill Waddington, chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, said: "We were promised by the CBA, and they promised us that there would be no separate deal. They clearly had a change of heart on that, and we will note that for the future.

"I, and my committee, worked very hard to achieve unity between solicitors and barristers, and right now there is a great feeling of anger and despondency."

Waddington said the 8.75 per cent cut in solicitors' fees was introduced with less than three weeks' notice. He said there were "no real concessions" for solicitors in this afternoon's announcement from the MoJ, describing the postponement of advocacy fee cuts and early introduction of interim payments for Crown Court hearings as "crumbs of comfort".

Waddington went on: "It's a very great shame that Mr Grayling has effectively bought off the Bar and divided us. It's a great shame the Bar has not seen through this tactic. We were fighting together against all the proposals."

He added that the protests by criminal legal aid solicitors would go ahead, as planned, on 31 March and 1 April, and take the form of 'training days'. Duty solicitor work would continue as normal.

Franklin Sinclair, senior partner of Tuckers, labelled the CBA a "disgrace" and said some of their own members were calling for an emergency meeting.

"They're shockers, aren't they? They're in it for themselves. The two branches of the profession have never really been united. It's very sad. Solicitors are not united either. It's self-interest that rules."

Sinclair went on to explain that Tuckers had made a decision to "get on with it" and that he would concentrate all his efforts on making the necessary cost reductions.

"We have a very short timescale to prepare for the future," he said. "If we want to play this game, we need to be ready. I've got no time for strikes and the rest of it."

He added that he was not confident that the second 8.75 per cent fee cut would not go ahead next summer, though waiting for the legal aid budget forecast would be helpful.

Justice secretary Chris Grayling said this afternoon: "I have always said that, given the current economic climate, I have no choice but to make savings, but that I also wanted to do what I could to ease their effects on lawyers.

"Hopefully today's agreement proves that I am true to my word. Following constructive discussion with leaders of the Bar and Law Society, we have agreed further measures to help lawyers as they prepare for legal aid savings."

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Legal Aid