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British Barristers Avoid Walkout Over Proposed Cuts to Legal Aid

criminal lawAttorneys, aka “Barristers,” in London have agreed to hold off on a planned walkout after proposed cuts to the country’s legal aid program were halted. The Ministry of Justice has said it will wait to introduce cost saving measures until next summer.

Criminal lawyers in Britain have announced they will call off their protest about the legal aid payments after reaching an agreement with the MoJ, which is looking to save about $215 million by 2018-2019.

Criminal solicitors and probation officers though weren’t happy and still plan to stage a two-day walkout. Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, told reporters the MoJ has had constructive talks with the bar and Law society leaders and have agreed to additional measures to help lawyers in their preparation for legal aid savings. For their part, the leaders of the bar have dropped all objections to accepting lower rates and have agreed to halt their plans to disrupt the courts.

Grayling said he was seeking a fair and efficient criminal justice system that would balance the needs of the public with the needs of the people working within the justice system. Calling it his top priority, Grayling said, “…I believe this agreement is a positive step forward.”

Recently there have been meetings between Grayling, representatives from the Bar Council and the Law Society which represents solicitors in England and Wales. The main part of the agreement looked at cuts to the advocates fee schedule. The annual budget for legal aid in Britain is $10 million and newer attorneys would be hurt most by any cuts approved.

The government has recognized that cuts to the “junior bar” are unnecessary and could possibly jeopardize the continuation of the legal progression in Britain. Eighty-nine percent of the cases heard in Britain do not qualify as VHCC — very high cost crime fraud — and thus could be eligible for payment supplements to come from the national fund. Lawyers have been boycotting VHCCs are part of their protest and are now in talks with the MoJ over the continuation of reimbursement in complex fraud cases.

Criminal attorneys have already joined solicitors in two walkouts, one in January and one this moth. The walkouts caused disruption in magistrate and crown courts throughout England and Wales.

Nicola Hill, president of the London Criminal Court Solicitors Association, said that Grayling’s plan to divide and conquer the legal profession is a move being made out of desperation. Hill went on to say that the government — and Grayling — is staring to comprehend the level of frustration and anger that is permeating the justice system due to cuts and systemic overhauls.

“This slash and burn approach affects not just the professionals, but more importantly, justice,” he said.