Criminal courts across Lancashire are facing disruption after barristers launched direct action in protest at cuts to fixed fees payable to lawyers who carry out legal aid work.
Campaigners say cuts to the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS), which links the amount barristers are paid for publicly funded work to the complexity of a case, will leave lawyers underpaid.
The Criminal Bar Association called on members to refuse work on new legal aid instructions after April 1, when the revised fee scheme came into force.
Several North West law chambers are taking action, and the effect has started to be felt in courts across the county.
One defendant in a drugs case in Preston Crown Court this week told a judge: “They said the barristers were not taking on any more clients because of the strike and that I had to come and explain the situation to the court.”
A statement from one Preston chambers - 15 Winckley Square - said the situation could lead to “miscarriages of justice - the conviction of the innocent and the acquittal of the guilty”.
It said: “The effects, in every area, are becoming ever clearer: courts and prisons in a deplorable state of repair, leading to unacceptable conditions; litigants struggling to deal with their own cases without legal help in the most trying of circumstances; overloaded courts and judges; increasing delays; and judicial morale at rock bottom, to name but a few.
“Those who suffer from all this are the public; the most vulnerable; the victims of crime; witnesses called to give evidence; and those who are innocent of the offences with which they are charged.”