The Law Society has hit out at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) after claiming the government’s £135m a year legal aid investments will not be enough to fix the “crisis in the criminal defence profession.”
The comments come as barristers are set to go on strike from tomorrow onwards, after the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said the MoJ’s new investment will not be enough to “keep the wheels of justice turning.”
In a statement, Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said “we understand why barristers have chosen to take this action” as she claimed the MoJ’s “proposals are woefully inadequate to address the crisis in the criminal defence professions.”
In new guidance, the Law Society also told solicitors that they are under no obligation to pick up cases, if barristers are not available due to the strike – as she claimed solicitors have been pressured to step in for barristers during strikes in the past.
“On previous occasions when barristers have taken direct action, solicitors have come under pressure to step in and do advocacy work that they are either not qualified to undertake or do not have the capacity to carry out,” Boyce said.
“However, we would like to emphasise that we do not consider that the unavailability of counsel – for whatever reason – creates an obligation on a solicitor-advocate in the instructing firm to take over any of the formerly instructed barrister’s responsibilities if they do not feel competent to do so.”
The comments come after justice secretary Dominic Raab slammed the CBA as he argued that it would be “totally unwarranted” for barristers to go ahead with strike action following his pledge to inject a further £135m a year into legal aid.
Raab’s pledge came after an independent report by former barrister Sir Christopher Bellmay QC said £135m is the minimum annual investment needed to nurse the criminal justice system “back to health after years of neglect”.
The barristers’ strike could scupper the government’s efforts to cut the crown court backlog, after Covid-19 saw the umber of cases waiting to be heard in Crown Court soar.