Action by solicitors and barristers will affect Newcastle and Teesside crown courts

Darlington and Stockton Times: Barrister Ian West Barrister Ian West

LAWYERS in the North-East will take industrial action for the first time in their history as a row over legal aid cuts reaches its next level.

In an unprecedented move, barristers and solicitors will refuse to attend court on Monday - and face being disciplined for their stance against the Government.

Organisers are hoping the action will involve up to 40 lawyers at Teesside Crown Court in Middlesbrough and a similar number at Newcastle Crown Court.

The Criminal Bar Association describe it as "a momentous day" and say the planned cuts are the biggest threat to the country's legal system in 400 years.

Members argue that the fees they receive are already so low that many of the best lawyers are leaving criminal work to specialise in other areas.

North-East barrister Ian West admitted that it is a difficult task to persuade the public that he and his colleagues are not well-paid.

But he explained: "Not all professional footballers earn £250,000 a week just because Cristiano Ronaldo does. Some play for Hartlepool United.

"That's the difference between criminal legal aid lawyers and City of London commercial solicitors - they are simply one two different planets.

"People ought to be concerned about the damage that is being done to the fabric of criminal justice legal aid services because it does affect them.

"Criminal lawyers who defend are the same people who prosecute, so they represent the man in the street, and help keep the streets safe for all of us."

Lord Faulks, QC, the new Minister of State for the Ministry of Justice in the House of Lords, has come out in support of those opposing change.

He said: “It is beyond argument that criminal barristers are, for the most part, very moderately paid . . . the criminal Bar is a profession in crisis.

“I fear that the fat has been so far removed from the carcass of criminal legal aid that these further cuts really threaten our justice system."

Lawyers will gather outside both court centres in the region on Monday morning and will not take on any cases until the afternoon session begins.

Mr West, from Fountain Chambers in Middlesbrough, said: "There are 7,000 criminal barristers up and down the country and we are hoping most take part.

"By not turning up for a case, you are probably committing an offence of professional misconduct and you could be disciplined if somebody complains.

"We are working on the basis that if that does happen, they are going to have to build a very big dock to get us all in it. It doesn't faze me."

Comments (11)

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9:25pm Sun 5 Jan 14

DaisyBear says...

Excellent. I hope they have success and I hope their actions are echoed up and down the country.

The lack of understanding about the criminal bar is a scandal - West's analogy of footballers will hopefully help people to understand the situation a little better.

If there is any way the public can help, I hope West will be able to disseminate the information before the action.
Excellent. I hope they have success and I hope their actions are echoed up and down the country. The lack of understanding about the criminal bar is a scandal - West's analogy of footballers will hopefully help people to understand the situation a little better. If there is any way the public can help, I hope West will be able to disseminate the information before the action. DaisyBear
  • Score: 9

9:55pm Sun 5 Jan 14

LegalPoodle says...

My thoughts are with all the barristers who will be taking action on Monday. It's time people realised just how much work barristers put in for so little money; the claim that barristers are all 'fat cat lawyers' is both ignorant and insulting. No barrister I know has gone into this profession for the money - quite the opposite, it is only the love of the job which pushes barristers to continue to work for the pennies given. Moreover, the cuts proposed are just NOT needed; contrary to popular incorrect opinion criminal legal aid spending has fallen significantly in recent years. The Government's original proposal (2011/12) was to cut £220 million from the 2011/2012 budget by 2018/19- already by 2013 the budget had been reduced by £198 million. With no additional cuts the amount needed to be cut has almost been achieved - which suggests that another £22 million in five years is perfectly achievable. The facts are not as Failing Grayling presents them - the fact of the matter is that barristers already struggle to live on what they earn, any further cuts will be a direct attempt to put the final nail in the coffin of the bar.
My thoughts are with all the barristers who will be taking action on Monday. It's time people realised just how much work barristers put in for so little money; the claim that barristers are all 'fat cat lawyers' is both ignorant and insulting. No barrister I know has gone into this profession for the money - quite the opposite, it is only the love of the job which pushes barristers to continue to work for the pennies given. Moreover, the cuts proposed are just NOT needed; contrary to popular incorrect opinion criminal legal aid spending has fallen significantly in recent years. The Government's original proposal (2011/12) was to cut £220 million from the 2011/2012 budget by 2018/19- already by 2013 the budget had been reduced by £198 million. With no additional cuts the amount needed to be cut has almost been achieved - which suggests that another £22 million in five years is perfectly achievable. The facts are not as Failing Grayling presents them - the fact of the matter is that barristers already struggle to live on what they earn, any further cuts will be a direct attempt to put the final nail in the coffin of the bar. LegalPoodle
  • Score: 4

10:53pm Sun 5 Jan 14

John Justice says...

This is one case of "Industrial action" that I fully support. This is in support of "The man on the Clapham Omnibus". In other words you and me, the ordinary man and woman who may, for what ever reason find themselves in need of legal representation that they would not be able to afford and if the government gets its way will be denied to the public who needs such representation.
I wish them all success.
This is one case of "Industrial action" that I fully support. This is in support of "The man on the Clapham Omnibus". In other words you and me, the ordinary man and woman who may, for what ever reason find themselves in need of legal representation that they would not be able to afford and if the government gets its way will be denied to the public who needs such representation. I wish them all success. John Justice
  • Score: 4

9:23am Mon 6 Jan 14

David Lacey says...

Legal aid costs have spiraled out of all reason. Time to cut back.
Legal aid costs have spiraled out of all reason. Time to cut back. David Lacey
  • Score: 3

12:32pm Mon 6 Jan 14

JD11BL says...

Barristers and lawyers have been their own worst enemy. Working people cannot afford the same level of 'defence' as the unemployed. It's unfair for an occupation to make their living, on the unemployed and rich.
Barristers and lawyers have been their own worst enemy. Working people cannot afford the same level of 'defence' as the unemployed. It's unfair for an occupation to make their living, on the unemployed and rich. JD11BL
  • Score: -1

1:00pm Mon 6 Jan 14

stevegg says...

The brakes are on the gravy train and they dont like it. David Lacey & JD11BL are both right, to much milking the system at taxpayers expense and a system being paid for in the main by working/middle class people who are not entitled to access it. Ex pat Millionaires and benefit climants run up huge bills having contributed not a penny towards it. About time we did like many others countries do, no pay in - no pay out.
The brakes are on the gravy train and they dont like it. David Lacey & JD11BL are both right, to much milking the system at taxpayers expense and a system being paid for in the main by working/middle class people who are not entitled to access it. Ex pat Millionaires and benefit climants run up huge bills having contributed not a penny towards it. About time we did like many others countries do, no pay in - no pay out. stevegg
  • Score: 1

1:19pm Mon 6 Jan 14

David Lacey says...

Great comments Stevegg and JD11BL. Seeing barristers and lawyers out on strike was hilarious.
Great comments Stevegg and JD11BL. Seeing barristers and lawyers out on strike was hilarious. David Lacey
  • Score: -2

2:39pm Mon 6 Jan 14

LegalPoodle says...

People who claim that barristers have been 'milking' obviously don't know the facts.
Everyone is entitled in the first instance to legal aid - everyone, so the claim that the 'system being paid for in the main by working/middle class people who are not entitled to access it' is just incorrect. The system which Grayling is supporting would result in middle class/working class people not being able to access that which they pay for.
The fact that everyone is given legal aid in the first instance (except in relevant exempt cases) is done for a very particular reason - one which people who complain of tax avoidance would agree with. In order to prevent rich clients charged with financial/drug/human trafficking crimes etc from siphoning of millions of pounds to their solicitors through 'fees' (thus avoiding the Proceeds of Crime Act which would have taken away their ill gotten gains) it was decided that instead all people would receive legal aid thereby removing the ability for such criminals to hide their money with their solicitors. However, once the person has been found guilty they are expected (on top of - if applicable - having all the ill gotten funds confiscated) to pay costs. That is why you see somebody sentenced to x and pay costs of y. If the person is innocent then the government should foot the bill for wrongly accusing someone of a crime they did not commit (that's just sense).
The working get just as a good a defence as the unemployed - this is just not understanding the way the system works. The working may then be required to pay a contribution towards their costs - but this would be expected.
Legal aid has spiraled out of reason? There have been no increases in the legal aid budget in the last 12 years at least! How can that be spiraling out of reason? Instead criminal barristers have been paid less and less and contrary to what people claim criminal barristers are not paid much at all. Managers at Tesco's generally get paid more than a criminal barrister - given the level of academic qualification and training that really is unacceptable (to be clear I have no issue with managers at supermarkets - however they don't have to undertake years of continual training, academic work and financial hardship before even being called to the bar and then try to pay for that (as well as living) on £10,000 a year).
Moreover, the cut backs the government wanted have already occurred without the need to ruin the English justice system.
There is no gravy train. People continually don't understand that the civil barristers' (who can earn vast amounts - up to £60,000 before tax in pupillage vs £15,000 before tax in pupillage for criminal barristers) usual earnings are nothing like criminal barristers' earnings. They simply cannot be compared. The 'gravy train' people talk about is merely hype used demonise those who are already struggling to pay the mortgage on their one bedroom terrace (not really the mansion they are supposed to live in!).

Get to know actual facts before you cast aspersions on a profession which not only barely gets by, but does so anyway because it believes in providing justice.
People who claim that barristers have been 'milking' obviously don't know the facts. Everyone is entitled in the first instance to legal aid - everyone, so the claim that the 'system [is] being paid for in the main by working/middle class people who are not entitled to access it' is just incorrect. The system which Grayling is supporting would result in middle class/working class people not being able to access that which they pay for. The fact that everyone is given legal aid in the first instance (except in relevant exempt cases) is done for a very particular reason - one which people who complain of tax avoidance would agree with. In order to prevent rich clients charged with financial/drug/human trafficking crimes etc from siphoning of millions of pounds to their solicitors through 'fees' (thus avoiding the Proceeds of Crime Act which would have taken away their ill gotten gains) it was decided that instead all people would receive legal aid thereby removing the ability for such criminals to hide their money with their solicitors. However, once the person has been found guilty they are expected (on top of - if applicable - having all the ill gotten funds confiscated) to pay costs. That is why you see somebody sentenced to x and pay costs of y. If the person is innocent then the government should foot the bill for wrongly accusing someone of a crime they did not commit (that's just sense). The working get just as a good a defence as the unemployed - this is just not understanding the way the system works. The working may then be required to pay a contribution towards their costs - but this would be expected. Legal aid has spiraled out of reason? There have been no increases in the legal aid budget in the last 12 years at least! How can that be spiraling out of reason? Instead criminal barristers have been paid less and less and contrary to what people claim criminal barristers are not paid much at all. Managers at Tesco's generally get paid more than a criminal barrister - given the level of academic qualification and training that really is unacceptable (to be clear I have no issue with managers at supermarkets - however they don't have to undertake years of continual training, academic work and financial hardship before even being called to the bar and then try to pay for that (as well as living) on £10,000 a year). Moreover, the cut backs the government wanted have already occurred without the need to ruin the English justice system. There is no gravy train. People continually don't understand that the civil barristers' (who can earn vast amounts - up to £60,000 before tax in pupillage vs £15,000 before tax in pupillage for criminal barristers) usual earnings are nothing like criminal barristers' earnings. They simply cannot be compared. The 'gravy train' people talk about is merely hype used demonise those who are already struggling to pay the mortgage on their one bedroom terrace (not really the mansion they are supposed to live in!). Get to know actual facts before you cast aspersions on a profession which not only barely gets by, but does so anyway because it believes in providing justice. LegalPoodle
  • Score: -1

3:04pm Mon 6 Jan 14

JD11BL says...

My uncles killer was very well defended. Chased down and stabbed twice. Self defence was the cry, 18 months later, he was out. Past experiences make us what we are. I see numerous crime lawyer practises, whilst public services are stripped to the bone. Teachers, soldiers are not getting rich, someone must be!!!
My uncles killer was very well defended. Chased down and stabbed twice. Self defence was the cry, 18 months later, he was out. Past experiences make us what we are. I see numerous crime lawyer practises, whilst public services are stripped to the bone. Teachers, soldiers are not getting rich, someone must be!!! JD11BL
  • Score: -2

3:14pm Mon 6 Jan 14

LegalPoodle says...

I have every sympathy for what happened to your uncle, believe me when I say that. However, it is entirely likely that the barrister who prosecuted your uncle's killer was a barrister who will be affected by these cuts - possibly forced out of the bar on the basis that they can't earn enough to support their family. Moreover, the person defending your uncle's killer was not personally supporting him, they were doing their job - defend as instructed. If they had not done a proper job then your uncle's killer could have appealed on the basis of poor defence which would mean that he would have gone free sooner. The person defending him also probably went on to prosecute someone else. The fact is that most criminal barristers do not just defend - they prosecute as well.
The fact that he was released after 18 months is not something which is the criminal bar's fault - that's an issue with sentencing. I don't disagree that sentencing in this country has gone mad - but it's not the same issue.
Yes teachers and soldiers are not getting rich - but why does this automatically equate to criminal barristers must be? Yes there is a very small portion of the criminal bar which does very well - its the same in any profession. However, the majority of the criminal bar struggles - unlike most professions we are self-employed, have to pay hefty professional fees such as subsidies, chambers fees, clerking fees etc which make the before tax figure much smaller than what the government would claim. I know criminal barristers who spend more on the train ticket to get them to court than they earn from legal aid work - they effectively pay for the privilege to appear in court. Does that strike you as getting rich?
I have every sympathy for what happened to your uncle, believe me when I say that. However, it is entirely likely that the barrister who prosecuted your uncle's killer was a barrister who will be affected by these cuts - possibly forced out of the bar on the basis that they can't earn enough to support their family. Moreover, the person defending your uncle's killer was not personally supporting him, they were doing their job - defend as instructed. If they had not done a proper job then your uncle's killer could have appealed on the basis of poor defence which would mean that he would have gone free sooner. The person defending him also probably went on to prosecute someone else. The fact is that most criminal barristers do not just defend - they prosecute as well. The fact that he was released after 18 months is not something which is the criminal bar's fault - that's an issue with sentencing. I don't disagree that sentencing in this country has gone mad - but it's not the same issue. Yes teachers and soldiers are not getting rich - but why does this automatically equate to criminal barristers must be? Yes there is a very small portion of the criminal bar which does very well - its the same in any profession. However, the majority of the criminal bar struggles - unlike most professions we are self-employed, have to pay hefty professional fees such as subsidies, chambers fees, clerking fees etc which make the before tax figure much smaller than what the government would claim. I know criminal barristers who spend more on the train ticket to get them to court than they earn from legal aid work - they effectively pay for the privilege to appear in court. Does that strike you as getting rich? LegalPoodle
  • Score: 2

5:25pm Mon 6 Jan 14

Ian West says...

David Lacey wrote:
Legal aid costs have spiraled out of all reason. Time to cut back.
Actually, David, legal aid costs have been coming DOWN in recent years. Since 2010, the spend on criminal legal aid has gone down by £300m, and is expected to reduce further this year - due to fee cuts already imposed, and falling volumes of cases charged (for example by the increased use of police cautions for serious offences that really ought to be prosecuted in court - the government keeps pretty quiet about that!)
[quote][p][bold]David Lacey[/bold] wrote: Legal aid costs have spiraled out of all reason. Time to cut back.[/p][/quote]Actually, David, legal aid costs have been coming DOWN in recent years. Since 2010, the spend on criminal legal aid has gone down by £300m, and is expected to reduce further this year - due to fee cuts already imposed, and falling volumes of cases charged (for example by the increased use of police cautions for serious offences that really ought to be prosecuted in court - the government keeps pretty quiet about that!) Ian West
  • Score: 0

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