Posted Mar 07, 2014 06:40 pm CST
Up to 1,000 lawyers or more protested outside Parliament in London on Friday over what one bar association called “unnecessary and crippling” legal aid cuts, as thousands more boycotted crown court hearings in major cities throughout the United Kingdom.
At issue is a 215 million-pound cut to the country’s annual legal aid budget for criminal cases that will reportedly require barristers and solicitors to reduce their fees by 6 percent and 17.5 percent, respectively. Protesters say the fee reductions will push seasoned practitioners out of legal aid work and result in a shortage of experienced lawyers to defend clients in criminal cases who cannot afford to retain private lawyers, according to the Guardian and the Mirror.
Photos show barristers, some wearing wigs and formal court gowns, walking along with solicitors and human rights leaders carrying signs and an effigy of justice secretary Chris Grayling in a march on Westminster. Prominent lawyers spoke at a rally outside the Houses of Parliament, including Sir Ivan Lawrence QC, a former conservative member of Parliament, the Guardian reports.
“I’m ashamed of this government. I have been a conservative for 60 years of my life. Never has there been a demonstration like this,” said Lawrence. “It’s atrocious that this government has forced us to come and behave like this.”
The Criminal Bar Association and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association say the fee cuts are unnecessary and will significantly damage the criminal justice system, the Mirror reports.
If appropriate funding is not restored, “then the British justice system, which is held in such high esteem around the world, will cease to exist as we know it and the British public can no longer expect true justice to be delivered,” said chairman Nigel Lithman of the CBA, adding: “The bar cannot and will not accept these unnecessary and crippling cuts and will continue to fiercely oppose them at every opportunity until our reasonable requests have been met with the appropriate levels of consideration.”
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman called the country’s legal aid system “one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world,” at a cost of around 2 billion pounds annually, the Mirror article continues.
“As everybody knows, this government is dealing with an unprecedented financial challenge, and the MoJ has no choice but to significantly reduce the amount of money it spends every year,” the spokeswoman stated.
The CBA contends that many junior barristers effectively will be paid 20 pounds per day, without benefits after the fee cuts, when preparation time and their costs are taken into account.