HEARINGS at the Isle of Wight Crown Court were disrupted yesterday morning (Monday) as lawyers went on strike over plans to cut Legal Aid.
Thousands of criminal case lawyers of England and Wales did not attend court today — the first walk-out in the profession's history — and some protested outside court buildings, after the government announced it would cut its £2bn legal aid bill by £220m.
Lawyers who specialise in legal aid work have described the cuts as a threat to the criminal justice system and warned their income could fall by as much as 30 per cent, but Justice Minister Shailesh Vara said lawyers were not immune from the tough economic climate.
At the Isle of Wight Crown Court, five cases were adjourned yesterday morning because defendants had no-one to represent them.
Southampton-based barrister Tim Moores, who practices on the Western Circuit, which includes the Isle of Wight, said the government had slashed its legal aid fund for six years in a row, amounting to a 46 per cent cut.
Mr Moores said: "Legal aid provision, like the NHS, is part of the welfare state. Years ago, people who knew the value of justice in our society designed a system which, like the NHS, meant if you needed it, the state would not provide some second-rate service for the poor, but the best available help at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer.
"Raiding the legal aid fund is a lazy way of saving money. It is driving the best from our profession. The Attorney General himself acknowledges fees are already so low that talent is leaving the criminal bar and fewer are coming forward to replace them."
Government figures — disputed by lawyers — show more than 1,200 full-time barristers working on taxpayer-funded criminal work received £100,000 in fee income last year.