Solicitors' vote to strike may deny victims legal aid

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The Independent Online

Solicitors have voted to take strike action over the Lord Chancellor's reform of the legal aid system, threatening to deny legal representation to thousands of people, including victims of child abuse and domestic violence.

Solicitors have voted to take strike action over the Lord Chancellor's reform of the legal aid system, threatening to deny legal representation to thousands of people, including victims of child abuse and domestic violence.

The most militant lawyers are those with family and immigration practices, who have voted to stop taking any further legal aid cases. It is the first time in the profession's history that solicitors have voted to take industrial action.

The growing backlog of asylum cases will be thrown into further chaos as law firms turn away new applicants. Even a proportion of the couples who divorce will either have to finance their own divorce or wait until the action is over.

Two thousand law firms responded to the Law Society ballot, with just over 50 per cent of immigration and family solicitors voting in favour of action.

A spokesman for the Law Society said the vote reflectedstrong feelings about the way solicitors had been treated by the Government. At the centre of the dispute was the amount of money which can be earned under the legal aid scheme. "Solicitors haven't had a pay rise for five years and they are very dissatisfied," he said.

Philippa Pearson, a former chair of the legal aid committee of the Solicitors Family Law Association, said she hoped solicitors would stand firm against the Lord Chancellor. "The average salary for a solicitor is between £23,000 and £25,000. We seem to be hated by the public yet we have never let them down," she said.

A spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's Department said that Lord Irvine believed the levels of remuneration "were adequate". In net terms, civil legal aid expenditure had risen by 6.3 per cent last year.