Many concerned solicitors declined to attend courts across the region yesterday over proposed £220m Government cuts to legal aid.
The Government is proposing to introduce cuts that could see fees fall by up to 30per cent and reduce representation for defendants but the Ministry of Justice has argued changes are necessary to remain efficient and to keep legal aid sustainable.
Many solicitors stayed away from Chesterfield magistrates’ court on Monday morning as they opted to pursue other work in protest against Government plans being phased in from April to cut the annual sum spent on legal aid by £220m.
The Criminal Bar Association confirmed there was a mass non-attendance at courts across the UK including Chesterfield because lawyers fear changes will lead to lawyers working at hourly rates lower than the national minimum wage and make it harder to bring adequate prosecutions or to adequately defend those falsely accused.
Solicitor Jon Barber, of Elliott Mather LLP, of Chesterfield and Derbyshire, said: “If someone is falsely accused of a criminal offence the State is represented in court by a prosecuting lawyer. The end result of the proposed cuts to legal aid will be that there will eventually be nobody left to protect such individuals in court unless they can afford to pay. This can’t be fair or right in a civilised society.”
Some lawyers are calling for a compromised pay freeze but the Government has argued legal aid costs tax payers £2bn every year on criminal and civil cases and lawyers are not immune from cuts facing everyone in difficult economic times.
An MoJ spokesman said legal aid would remain generous after reform and highlighted some barristers have been receiving very generous taxpayer-funded criminal work salaries.
The Treasury Counsel, which includes an elite group of barristers, and the Criminal Bar Association and the Justice Alliance have raised concerns about the Government plans.