Lawyers stage stoppage in city’s courts on legal aid protest

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Barristers Abigail Langford, Rebecca Young, Clare Benson and Laura McBride. Barristers Abigail Langford, Rebecca Young, Clare Benson and Laura McBride.

Courts in Bradford were disrupted yesterday as lawyers staged a one-day strike in protest at Government proposals to cut legal aid fees.

Cases at both the crown and magistrates courts failed to go ahead because defendants were unrepresented due to the industrial action by barristers, supported by solicitors.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is cutting fees for barristers and solicitors in a bid to slash £220m from the legal aid budget. The Ministry of Justice said it had no choice but to significantly reduce the money it spends, and said the plans represented an average two per cent reduction for lower paid barristers.

But the Criminal Bar Association claims the cuts would dismantle the criminal justice system and the public would not get true justice, with many lawyers being forced out of the profession.

Dozens of criminal barristers from the Broadway House chambers in Bradford joined thousands of colleagues across the country in the day of action, which meant they did not attend crown court. A number protested with placards outside the combined court centre.

A handful of barristers, out of more than 50 based at the chambers, went into court to ensure that sensitive cases involving vulnerable witnesses proceeded.

They received backing from solicitors, who failed to attend court hearings. Only three or four solicitors went to Bradford and Keighley Magistrates Court, where the number of courts sitting was less than half the normal.

Michelle Colborne QC, head of chambers at Broadway House, said: “This is not a decision taken lightly. We are all deeply saddened by the position we are in.

“But we realise that unless we do this now there will be no criminal justice system. If we lose quality legal advocates there will be nobody to come up through the ranks and no judges in the future.”

She added: “The only barristers working today are those involved in cases where there are vulnerable witnesses part heard in evidence.”

Bradford solicitor Kam Dhesi, who supported the protest, said: “The concerns of the Bar are shared by all criminal practitioners. These cuts go to the heart of the criminal justice system and their potential impact is frightening.”

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