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Lawyers refuse to defend cases at Newcastle Crown Court in furious protest over funding UK News

Lawyers in the North East are refusing to take on last minute cases in protest at government budget cuts which they say have left our courts in chaos.

On April 11, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) action that will see defense attorneys reject ‘return’ cases began, after 94% of the body’s members voted to ‘withdraw their goodwill “in an effort to force the government to increase legal aid fees.

Criminal cases are often dismissed by lawyers unable to cover them as ongoing trials become protracted or suffer delays. Usually their colleagues agree to cover them, often working long hours at the last minute to catch up on the details. But, from this week, these cases will not be heard.

Read more: Locked up in March 2022: Drug gangs, thugs and burglars among those incarcerated in North East courts

Multiple law firms across the North East have confirmed they will join the action, which organizers say ‘will continue until the government agrees to a fair resolution of the criminal bar’s long-standing concerns regarding the unacceptable legal aid fees that are driving hundreds of our lawyers out of criminal practice”.

Among them are lawyers from Trinity Chambers, based in Newcastle and Teesside. Caroline Goodwin QC, head of the Chambers Criminal Practice Group, was CBA President in 2019/20 and has been involved in discussions with the Ministry of Justice over lawyers’ concerns.

She told ChronicleLive: “Over a long period the government has cut funding to the criminal justice system. The young bar is being paid poorly for the work it does; they’ve slashed the police; they’ve slashed the Crown Prosecution Service; they cut sitting days in court.

“All these chickens have come home to roost now. We have a criminal justice system that is cracking at the seams, where it cannot cope with the number of ongoing cases waiting to be tried.”

These growing pressures, she said, have resulted in a system that runs on ‘gasoline’ and ‘goodwill’, with exhausted lawyers leaving the profession or choosing not to take on painful cases. , such as sexual offences, because of the impact on mental health. . Lawyers say this puts more pressure on those left behind, while low pay rates for legal aid work can mean lawyers take on more work than they can do.

Ms Goodwin added: “We are self-employed, we have to pay for our insurance, our subscriptions, our travel between cases. The reality is that it’s hard work at the bar and a lot of people have to try to increase the number of case they are making to try to make it financially viable.

“No one here is asking for extraordinary favors. What we are asking for is reasonable compensation for the work we do.”

The backlog of cases, she said, was evident before the pandemic, with the crisis only “highlighting” pre-existing issues. This is a problem that now stands in the way of justice. According to the ABC, 280 trials in the last quarter of 2021 were adjourned due to a shortage of lawyers, with cases now taking an average of 700 days, leaving victims’ lives in limbo.

Meanwhile, after expenses, new criminal lawyers earn a median of £12,200, while in just one year between 2020 and 2021, earnings for the entire profession have fallen by 23%.

In 2021, an independent review said a cash injection of £135m a year was “the minimum needed as a first step to heal the criminal legal aid system after years of neglect”. The government has agreed to provide this “minimum”, with a 15% increase in legal aid fees.

However, this will only apply to new cases from October 2022, with the huge backlog of cases meaning lawyers won’t see the extra money for some time. The ABC has called for an immediate 25% increase in fees, with payments for currently unpaid written work and additional money to reflect time spent preparing complex sex offense cases.

Brian Hegarty, partner at Newcastle-based David Gray LLP, said the action would have a huge impact in the North East. He said: “It’s going to be really important. Lawyers are sending an awful lot of cases back to each other and the only way for the justice system to work effectively is for lawyers to accept returns.

“The backlog in the courts was huge before the pandemic, it was already a significant and growing problem and it will only make matters worse. It has long been said that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’, and that applies to our courts. They are doing what they can, but they are hamstrung by central government funding decisions and if they don’t put the money in the backlog, they can’t be reduced.

He said the extra sitting days that had been reintroduced following previous cuts were ‘too few, too late’, and called on ministers to do more than provide the bare minimum recommended by the review independent.

He added: “The whole system is underfunded and this backlog has been created by the central government not investing in…

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This notice was published: 2022-04-17 17:00:00

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