Lawyers, including members of the Jewish community, are on strike across England and Wales in a dispute over legal aid fees and conditions.
On Monday, criminal lawyers joined picket lines outside a number of high-profile courts, including the Old Bailey in London and Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff and Bristol Crown Courts.
Outside the Old Bailey, Jonathan Black, a partner at BSB Solicitors, told Jewish News: ‘There has been a proud tradition for many decades of Jewish community legal aid lawyers serving the the entire population.
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“Many businesses have closed or stopped providing legal aid services due to failed government cuts and the inability to link rates to inflation. Rates have remained stable since 1996 .
“Graduates are not entering the profession and the next generation of associates and judges are not making it.
“Leaving college with student debt means the industry is not an attractive prospect. Communities need access to justice on the main street”
Striking lawyers have warned the profession is facing an ‘existential crisis’ due to insufficient funding.
The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) says the Government’s offer of a 15% fee increase is not enough after the impact of the cuts – and will not apply to a growing backlog of 58,000 cases before the Crown courts.
Despite misconceptions about lawyers’ earnings, strikers say criminal lawyers earn an average annual income after expenses of £12,200 in the first three years of practice.
They are now pushing for a 25% raise and plan to stage further walkouts unless the dispute is resolved.
This means that almost a quarter of young criminal lawyers have left the profession since 2016.
Many leave the profession to take up positions in CPS and the civil service or in the commercial sector.
Others fear the profession will be attacked by the current government, saying lawyers who seek to challenge policies are ‘activists’ even if they uphold the rule of law.
Black, a member of Muswell Hill Synagogue, told Jewish News that court closures and a backlog of Crown courts mean defendants and witnesses are waiting two to three years for cases to be concluded, laying their lives outstanding.
“With the loss of professionals, there are not enough people left to handle these cases, those left have to work long hours for limited pay and often at an hourly rate below minimum wage,” he said. declared.
“This cannot be maintained.”
Black also warned that unrepresented defendants were becoming common.
“Representing yourself is a very risky process,” he added.
“You’d be surprised how often members of the public find themselves in a position where they need the advice of a criminal lawyer. ”
The government called the CBA’s decision “disappointing” and said “unnecessary” strikes would only hurt victims.
He questioned the ABC’s mandate for the action and says a 15% increase would mean a typical criminal lawyer would earn around £7,000 more a year.