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Legal Aid Reform - Bar Strike Action Ongoing
Ref: 460

Date: Sat 25 Jun 2022 10:34

Statement from the SAHCA (Criminal Division) concerning the current industrial action between the Criminal Bar Association(‘CBA’) and the Ministry of Justice.

1. The Solicitors Association of Higher Court Advocates (SAHCA) is a membership organisation that represents solicitors who practice advocacy at all levels of the courts of England and Wales. The membership section is broad and includes advocates who practice across a wide range of disciplines from commercial to criminal.

2. SAHCA membership includes solicitor advocates, both employed and self-employed who practice criminal advocacy in the Crown Court and who receive payment under the Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme (‘AGFS’). Some of the members we represent are employed by a solicitors’ firms who hold a legal aid crime contract with the Ministry of Justice. Other SAHCA members are self-employed and act as ‘freelance’ solicitor advocates who are instructed by many different firms.

3. Advocates who are employed by firms that hold criminal contracts with the Legal Aid Agency are not normally able to take industrial action due to the terms of the contracts they sign with the LAA. This is not because those advocates do not want to take industrial action to support the CBA, but simply that they may be in breach of contract if they do. Freelance advocates may be in a position to take industrial action if they choose to.

4. SAHCA as a membership body fully supports the continuning action that the Criminal Bar are currently taking concerning the rates of pay under the Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme. We agree and re-enforce the principle that the work done by criminal advocates is a fundamental part of the Criminal Justice System. Many of our members have worked throughout the pandemic as essential workers, conducting jury trials and ensuring that the most vulnerable in society have a voice.

5. We as an organisation believe that the Criminal Justice System is at a critical point. Solicitors and advocates are choosing to cease carrying out criminal advocacy and either switching to other fields or leaving the profession altogether. Many of these are highly experienced and are some of the most senior members of the profession. We are also alarmed at the rate in which duty solicitors are choosing not to engage in criminal work. There will come a time, if this issue is not addressed, that there will be no advocates left to do this work.  Solicitor Advocates are an essential part of the system which provides those charged with offences with a high level of representation in often demanding circumstances.

6. SAHCA supports the position of the CBA that the rates of payment under the AGFS are currently not sustainable for advocates. There have been no increases in payment under these schemes since the 1990’s. In the current era of high inflation, this provides even more motivation for advocates to leave the profession in large numbers. If this happens, the backlog in the courts will only get bigger and those that suffer will be defendants, victims and their families.

7. On behalf of all of our membership, we urge the Ministry of Justice to engage in a healthy dialogue with the Criminal Bar and to recognise the seriousness of the problem that the criminal courts face.

8. Furthermore, we do not support the Ministry of justice’s attempts to undermine the current action by contacting solicitor’s firms to act in cases where the Criminal Bar are undertaking industrial action.  We understand that the Ministry of Justice has had very little if any take up of such a scheme.

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