Solicitors across England and Wales have begun a co-ordinated 'wildcat' boycott of legal aid work from today, which could disrupt a number of criminal trials.
Having secured the backing of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association (LCCSA) and an umbrella group for legal aid firms with a combined turnover of £1.5m, solicitors in several major cities will refuse to act in trials for defendants relying on legal aid funding.
The protest is directed towards a cut in fees paid to duty solicitors attending police stations and magistrates courts. The BBC reports that a reduction of 8.75 per cent will be imposed from today, and will come on top of a similar cut last year.
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The cuts form part of plans to reduce the £1.8bn legal aid budget by around £220m by 2018-19. With a final phase of the savings to come in January 2016, the overall reduction of payments to solicitors involved in complex, high-cost cases is likely to reach 30 per cent.
Jon Black, president of the LCCSA, told the Financial Times that in some cases, solicitors will see their fees reduced by 50 per cent.
The impact of the boycott will vary across the country, the FT reports. In some cities, including London and Manchester, solicitors will still attend police stations to represent defendants in the hours after their arrest, but will not take part in trials.
In other cities, including Leeds and Liverpool, they will not attend police stations either. That could prevent interviews taking place and result in defendants being released.
Solicitors in Leicester and Teeside have not supported the action, arguing that the strike needed to be backed by barristers' professional bodies, The Guardian says. In June the government scrapped cuts to advocacy fees for barristers.
Justice Secretary Michael Gove has insisted on the need to reform the legal sector, arguing that wealthy solicitors should do more free work in order to preserve access to justice for all.
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