15 trials and 42 court hearings adjourned as barristers boycott crown courts in protest at plans to slash legal aid bill


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The Independent Online

More than 400 barristers boycotted crown courts in northern England today in what was described as the first militant action against Government plans to slash the criminal legal aid bill by millions.

Fifteen trials and 42 other hearings had to be adjourned, according to HM Courts & Tribunals Service, though a spokesman said these did not involve any cases concerning vulnerable victims or witnesses. Most were relisted within four weeks.

A spokesman for the Northern Circuit, which stretches from Carlisle through Manchester and Liverpool to Chester, said an "overwhelming majority" of its members had chosen to attend an all-day protest meeting to discuss and form a response to proposals to slash the criminal legal aid bill by £220 million.

Around 100 solicitors also joined the early part of the meeting yesterday in a show of solidarity.

Among a number of reforms put out to consultation by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, are plans to stop automatic legal aid for criminal defendants with a household income of £37,500.  Proposals will also pave the way for lawyers to compete for contracts, which critics say will reduce the options available to defendants in choosing their own lawyer.

Last week, The Law Gazette reported that the Chief Crown Prosecutor for the North West Nazir Afzal had warned that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) regarded decisions not to honour professional commitments as a "very serious step".

The Ministry of Justice said it would be "disappointing" if lawyers chose to disrupt court schedules and added it "would not help them and simply inconveniences the court, the public and their clients".