WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
February 01 2023
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO

Legal aid solicitors consider strike action

Legal aid solicitors consider strike action

Issue 3: Why legal aid matters (£15)

Another criminal practitioner strike will have significant effects on the criminal justice system and access to justice for the public. The recent criminal barristers’ strike in response to legal aid cuts has demonstrated the impact of such action. Legal aid is aimed at those with the fewest resources to acquire legal representation. Solicitors turning away from such work, or new trainees declining to join the profession, will detrimentally impact both the ability of vulnerable people to access justice and thus the integrity of the legal system as a whole.

Criminal legal aid firm owners are contemplating taking action in light of the government’s final response (due for release within the next few weeks) to the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid. The Criminal Law Solicitors Association (CLSA) announced at a recent meeting of crime contract holders that it is commissioning advice regarding the formation of a trade union for legal aid lawyers.

The CLSA told the Law Society Gazette that it had commissioned advice on the ‘legal position and practical options for the unionisation of criminal legal aid lawyers’, given its members were of the understanding that industrial action was the only successful means of securing the investment required to ensure the profession is sustainable.

Currently, legal aid solicitors are unable to engage in strike action owing to their contractual obligations — instead they have been boycotting underpaid work. While they are primarily represented by The Law Society, it is not a trade union.

The recent criminal barristers’ strike has galvanised legal aid solicitors who see themselves as having ensured that the criminal justice system did not come to a total stand-still during recent industrial action, and who have seen that striking can successfully force the government to accept pay-increase demands. Legal aid solicitors have been disappointed by the government’s reluctance to implement the 15% pay increase recommended for criminal defence solicitors by its own review.

Law Society President Lubna Shuja has commented that ‘Escalation of action by law firm owners is near inevitable’. A press release from The Law Society states that if solicitors do not receive parity when the government’s full response to the Independent Review is published, then The Law Society will advise its members that ‘there is no viable future in criminal legal aid work.’

Escalation in the form of industrial action will be likely again to cause significant disruptions for the public accessing the criminal justice system, both as victims and defendants. This follows from the barristers’ strike, which the Independent reports, according to a Ministry of Justice source, caused roughly 700 hearings to be disrupted by the first two days of industrial action in June 2022. These short-term issues would be exacerbated by a potential shrinking of the workforce, if practitioners were to be advised that criminal legal aid work is impracticable.

Criminal legal aid solicitors await the publication of the Government’s response to the Independent Review.