Top barristers walked out of court in protest against proposed Government cuts to legal aid – which could lead to people being represented by a HAULAGE FIRM.
The mass exodus from Bristol Crown Court came on the final day of consultations on the money-saving suggestions, which would cut funding for civil cases with a less than 50 per cent chance of success.
Members of the bar, as well as former judges, fear that any cuts will deny millions of people access to justice – and open the doors to private companies like Eddie Stobart and G4S providing legal aid.
The money-saving measures would include reducing lawyers’ and barristers’ court fees, as well as the amount of cash paid to expert witnesses.
Two-dozen members of the legal profession gathered in their wigs and gowns on the steps of Bristol Crown Court to protest the measures, which they reckon would lead to a cull in legal-aid lawyers.
Nigel Lickley, leader of the Western Circuit, said many people will be faced with financial ruin in a bid to defend themselves in court – and the criminal bar will be decimated.
He said: “Justice Secretary Chris Grayling says these reforms are about cutting legal aid to the wealthiest individuals.
“But with a cap of £37,500 joint household disposable income, it will be hard-working families hit hardest.
“Many will face the prospect of having to re-mortgage or seek external finance in order to afford the expert witnesses, forensic specialists and new technology which are part and parcel of modern trials.
“The losers from this bill will be law-abiding citizens on modest incomes who defend their homes against intruders, accidentally clip a cyclist in their cars or who are simply among the many each year accused of crimes they have not committed.
“If Grayling gets his way, even those who qualify for legal aid will have their lawyer, potentially from G4S or Serco, chosen for them – even Eddie Stobart has said they intend to bid for work.
“The globally-renowned British criminal justice system as we know it will be unrecognisable.
“We know money needs to be saved. But with bankruptcy and miscarriages of justice on the cards, there really is little to support in the proposed reforms.
“We ask the Government to give us the opportunity to work with the united legal profession to develop new, more-effective reforms which maintain the fairness of the justice system and protect the rights of ordinary people.”