The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has denied claims that it put pressure on solicitors who were considering direct action in protest against legal aid cuts. Many solicitors around the country were considering taking a form of strike action by temporarily ceasing legal aid work starting tomorrow, but a number have claimed the LAA has put pressure on them to abandon the protest.
Legal Aid has already been on the receiving end of significant and controversial cuts, which many solicitors and legal professionals have criticised for limiting access to legal representation and ultimately to justice. Further cuts are due to come into force this week, prompting solicitors in various parts of the country to warn that they would take direct action. Most recently, East Yorkshire solicitors have agreed to take part in the protest. At a meeting held on Friday for lawyers in the area, the majority of attendees voted to refuse legal aid work when the new cuts come into effect.
The London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) has received reports from a number of solicitors saying that they been called by the LAA which warned them against taking protest action. According to one solicitor, who was scheduled to work with the Legal Aid Agency tomorrow in Blackpool, was warned that refusing to work out of protest would lead the LAA to take action.
Claims of pressuring solicitors to abandon their protest were denied by the LAA. The organisation did, however, acknowledge that lawyers working with the agency frequently find themselves in conversation with contract managers who may remind them of the arrangements that have been made and their responsibilities “if appropriate.”
As well as those in East Yorkshire, legal professionals in areas such as Birmingham, Cardiff and Merseyside have already agreed to take part in direct action. A number of further meetings are planned so that solicitors and barristers in places like the West Midlands, Manchester, Leicester and Leeds can decide whether they intend to join the protest or not.
The LCCSA and the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association also held a ballot on the matter of Direct Action, which closed at 10.00pm yesterday evening. An indication of the direction this ballot seemed to be going was given on Friday by LCCSA chair Jonathan Black who said that, so far as it had progressed up to that point, the ballot seemed to show that the legal profession was “overwhelmingly in support of action.”