STRIKE action taking place today (March 7) has affected courts across the Chichester area, as criminal barristers stage a mass protest over legal aid cuts.
Trials at magistrate and crown courts across the country have ground to a halt, including at Hove Trial Centre and Chichester Crown Court, and will be abandoned or rescheduled.
A march by lawyers is scheduled to finish outside the Houses of Parliament and concerns the government’s latest round of £215m cuts to legal aid.
A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for the South East area told the Observer:
“We enjoy an effective relationship with the Bar in our work to deliver a quality prosecution service.
“It is important that prosecutions are not disrupted and we expect any court business listed for 7 March to be prosecuted by the instructed advocate in accordance with their professional obligations.
“In respect of prosecution work, the CPS Graduated Fee Scheme and Very High Cost Case fee schemes were introduced two years ago (March 1, 2012) and are operating effectively and without any significant difficulty.”
A spokesman for the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) of England and Wales told the Observer: “We are angry that a government who professes to engage with its constituency has chosen to press ahead with savage cuts to the Legal aid system.
“The Criminal Bar Association, Circuit Leaders and the Bar Council have repeatedly warned Mr Grayling that cuts to legal aid rates for advocacy in both magistrates courts and crown courts will be a disaster for the public and for the professions.
“If these cuts are not addressed then the British Justice system, which is held in such high esteem around the world, will cease to exist as we know it and the British public can no longer expect true justice to be delivered.
“These cuts mean that our colleagues in law firms will rapidly go to the wall in their hundreds, leaving people who can’t afford to pay privately with only the crumbs of legal aid. Firms will sack experienced, more expensive solicitors, replacing them with those who are unqualified and cheap.
“This can only be damaging for justice. The solicitors who are still in business quite simply won’t have the time, money or expertise to prepare cases properly. And it’s the ordinary people, those we don’t hear about, who don’t make the headlines, who will have to accept third rate advice. Not the wealthy who can pay privately.
“We have repeatedly said that we will not stand idly by and watch the destruction of our system. We are committed to fighting these cuts and will do so.
“Today is but the next step. We have warned the Ministry of Justice that we will take measures of ever increasing severity to save our system of justice. They have not listened. They have been warned.”