The Law Society has hit out at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) after claiming government investment in legal aid of £135million a year would not be enough to solve the ‘crisis of the criminal defense profession’ .
The comments come as lawyers are set to go on strike from tomorrow, after the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said the Justice Department’s new investment will not be enough to ‘turn the wheels of Justice”.
In a statement, Law Society President I. Stephanie Boyce said “we understand why attorneys have chosen to take this step,” as she asserted that “the Justice Department’s proposals are woefully insufficient to do in the face of the crisis of the criminal defense professions”.
In new guidance, the Law Society also told lawyers they were not required to take on cases if lawyers are unavailable due to the strike – as it claimed lawyers had been forced to replace lawyers during strikes in the past.
“On previous occasions when lawyers have taken direct action, lawyers have been pressured to step in and do advocacy work that they are not qualified to undertake or do not have the capacity to carry out,” said Boyce said.
“However, we would like to emphasize that we do not consider that the unavailability of a lawyer – for whatever reason – creates an obligation for a lawyer-attorney of the contracting firm to assume any of the responsibilities of the lawyer previously appointed if he does not feel competent to do so.
The comments come after Justice Secretary Dominic Raab slammed the ABC, saying it would be ‘completely unjustified’ for lawyers to go ahead with the strike over his £135million pledge additional per year in 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 lawyers’ strike could sabotage the Government’s efforts to reduce the Crown Court backlog, after Covid-19 saw the number of cases waiting to be heard at Crown Court soar.