Society edges closer to nuclear option on legal aid | News

Striking criminal barristers will vote this week on whether to accept the government’s revised legal aid offer – as the Law Society edges one step closer to issuing an unprecedented warning over the future of criminal defence work.

Justice secretary Brandon Lewis is hoping he has done enough to end the criminal bar’s action, which began in April, by offering what he announced last week was a package of reforms representing a further £54m investment in the criminal bar and solicitors.

Members of the Criminal Bar Association will be balloted on the new offer tomorrow. The ballot will close on Sunday and the results will be announced the following day.

However, the Law Society is unhappy about the deal, warning that it would advise members not to undertake criminal defence work if the government does not offer the minimum 15% fee uplift recommended for solicitors by the Bellamy review. Chancery Lane repeated the warning following an urgent meeting with justice minister Gareth Johnson MP on the day the new deal was announced.

Of the £54m being offered, £19m is earmarked for solicitors and the Ministry of Justice says further uplifts for solicitors will be announced later this year. However, the Society says the further investment is mainly a one-off and not increasing rates in the long-term, so solicitors are still well below the 15% increase barristers are receiving.

Chancery Lane said it presented its arguments ‘strongly’ to the minister.

Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said it was positive that, as a former minister criminal defence practitioner, Johnson understood the problems in the criminal justice system. ‘However, rather than anything substantial, all that is currently being offered to solicitors by the government is more promises of jam tomorrow. We will continue to push for a fair deal for solicitors for

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‘Fight or die’: solicitors handed strategy for legal aid action | News

Criminal defence solicitors should instruct a commercial silk to review their ‘unfair’ government contract, unionise en masse and set up a hardship fund, a former criminal bar chief who co-led the barristers’ strike suggested today.

Lucie Wibberley, former secretary of the Criminal Bar Association, told the Criminal Law Solicitors Association conference a war had arrived at their door. ‘You can choose to fight or you can die,’ she said.

Wibberley said solicitors faced a ‘monopsony plus’. They had one contractor – the government – which had complete control over legal aid fees, forcing them down year after year. ‘The issue you’re facing is an employment law problem and it is unfair.’

Wibberley suggested instructing a commercial silk to review the government contract and understand potential remedies.

Should employees decide to strike, they would be taking action against their employer, the owner of their firm. ‘But by taking that action, you’re creating leverage the firm owner needs to apply pressure to the government.’

Solicitors were told they needed a hardship fund. ‘You have many more mouths to feed,’ Wibberley said. ‘Where do you look? You look to the unions. Unite has a multi-million pound strike fund. That’s how their strikers can afford to go out week after week after week.’

Wibberley urged solicitors to change the narrative from one of despair to one that will unite and mobilise colleagues.

‘The war is at your door. You’re facing a government who do not care if the sector collapses. Forget reasoned arguments. We’re not in court. You’re not going to win this battle by being lawyers. The government you’re facing do not care if you’re going to go out of business. It’s action, not words. Your leverage is whether you choose to work.’

Solicitors were also advised to film themselves outside

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