COURTS across Yorkshire will face disruption on Monday as members of the legal profession join a national protest to put pressure on the Government over controversial legal aid reforms.
Many solicitors and barristers will not attend morning sessions, forcing them to temporarily grind to a halt.
The reforms are intended to slice £220m from the £1.1bn criminal legal aid portion of the legal aid bill.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s reforms will see prisoners’ access to legal aid limited, a household disposable income threshold for criminal legal aid introduced of £37,500 and will set out proposals for reducing the cost of fees for representation.
The Government says the country’s criminal justice system is one of the most expensive in the world, and it will remain “very generous even after reform.”
Figures from the Ministry of Justice showing how much was paid to the 4,931 barristers, who do tax-payer funded criminal work, revealed in 2012-2013 two-thirds were paid over £30,000 – with 1,275, more than one in four, over £100,000. Six were paid more than £500,000.
However Bill Waddington, director at Hull-based Williamsons Solicitors, who chairs the national Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, one of the organisers of Monday’s protest, said the introduction of flat fees to defence representatives would provide a “perverse incentive” to pressurise lawyers into advising clients to plead guilty.
He said: “If you have a client who pleads not guilty, it is a lot more work than a client pleading guilty as there is a lot of preparation, witnesses, hearing time.
“There is a cynical perverse incentive to pressurise lawyers into advising clients to plead guilty when perhaps they should not be doing so.
“It will undermine the essential trust in the relationship between a lawyer and his client.”
Mr Waddington insisted the legal profession was backed by a public concerned to see the “dismantling of a justice system that is the envy of the world.”
He said there were people – like the distracted driver who collides with a cyclist – who was not a criminal but was suddenly charged with causing death by dangerous driving – who needed to be properly represented.
A spokeswoman for the MoJ said: “We entirely agree lawyers should be paid fairly for their work, and believe our proposals do just that.”