‘We get it’: Law Society issues guidelines on bar action | News

The Law Society said it understood why criminal lawyers were taking industrial action from next week, but refrained from calling for a similar response from lawyers.

From Monday, some criminal lawyers will refuse to step in when the lawyer handling the case becomes unavailable, following an overwhelming vote in support of a “no return” policy by members of the Criminal Bar Association last month.

The ABC has voted for members on industrial action in response to the government’s decision to invest just an extra £135m a year in the criminal legal aid sector, the minimum recommended by Sir Christopher Bellamy in his review.

In orientation released today, the Law Society warns lawyers that class action by the profession as a whole, or by local associations or groups of lawyers, may violate competition law. Although she “does not call for such action”, she says: “It will not be surprising if many lawyers decide independently that, for professional or business reasons, they cannot accept work where they cannot be sure of finding an advocate for the case or whether it is economically viable to undertake advocacy in-house.

The guidelines state: “We wish to emphasize that we do not consider that the unavailability of a lawyer – for any reason whatsoever – creates an obligation for a solicitor-attorney of the contracting firm to take charge of the any of the responsibilities of the former mandated lawyer, if he does not feel competent to do so.

He adds, “We encourage all firms to consider their own circumstances when deciding whether or not to take the plea in a case where the attorney has declined or ceased to act.”

Law Society President I. Stephanie Boyce said: ‘The Criminal Bar Association and the Law Society are, for different reasons, both of the view that the Justice Department’s proposals are woefully inadequate to deal with to the crisis in the criminal defense professions. Criminal law is no longer an attractive career option for young lawyers or lawyers. Many who currently practice criminal law will wonder how long they can continue to do so. We understand why the lawyers chose to take this step.