HUNDREDS of court cases across Hampshire and the UK will not go ahead today as barristers and solicitors refuse to attend court in a row over cuts and pay.
For the first time in history members of the Bar will refuse to defend or prosecute in court cases scheduled for this morning in protest over Government’s plans to slash the Legal Aid fund.
The action – which the participants are refusing to call a strike – is a last ditch bid to stop the cuts of up to 25 per cent, which will dramatically reduce what they are paid to defend or prosecute a case.
They claim that around 60 per cent of the Bar currently earn £35,000 or less and that the cuts, coming on the back of others introduced in 2007, in real terms will mean a 41 per cent reduction in fees.
They say that, in turn, is forcing “a weakened system” that will deter people from becoming criminal lawyers and barristers and will ultimately mean justice will not be done.
Almost all barristers and solicitors in Hampshire are expected to take part in the morning of action – in breach of their own code.
They could face one of a number of sanctions, from being reported to the Criminal Bar Association, which could discipline them in the form of a warning, fine, suspension or, ultimately, have them struck off.
One barrister, who asked not to be named but who will be taking part in the protest, said: “If these cuts come in we will be earning about 50 per cent of what we were in 2007.
"We know the action being taken today is significant in that it has never happened before, but the Bar has rallied and we believe what the Government is proposing is completely ludicrous.
“The knock-on effect will simply be that people won’t come to the Bar and we will have a downgrade in experience.
“Eventually the pool of people who go on to become judges will be significantly smaller and definitely not as talented.”
Both Southampton and Winchester Crown Courts had been told of the planned action. Virtually all cases listed for 10.30am would have no barristers or solicitors present.
Instead a representative of the Western Circuit – which has around 1,000 members across Hampshire and the south west of England – is expected to read a statement on the steps of the courts. In Winchester a meeting has been convened at the Royal Hotel for barristers and solicitors to gather and discuss their views.