‘Body count’ warning over further fee cut
Despite concerted opposition from the profession, the government pressed ahead with imposing a second 8.75 per cent fee cut on criminal firms at the beginning of July. Barristers, however, won a temporary reprieve, with legal aid minister Shailesh Vara MP announcing there would be no immediate reduction in advocacy fees, in order to ‘retain a vibrant independent bar’. Responding to the move, Bill Waddington (pictured), chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA), said that they were ‘beside themselves with grief’ and that the government had ‘not listened to the arguments of the last two to three years at all’. Waddington was especially aggrieved that the government had asked practitioners to submit further evidence on the fee cut with less than 24 hours’ notice as part of the ‘review Grayling had promised’ – and then ignored it.
The government has undertaken to review the impact of the fee cut and tenders a year from the implementation of the cut, which came into effect on 1 July. Waddington believes this ‘will not be so much a review but a body count’.
The president of the Law Society, Andrew Caplen, also condemned the changes: ‘Twenty years without any increase in fees, followed by two sets of cuts since 2010, had already pushed firms’ viability to breaking point.’ He warned that some firms would be forced to close and ‘others will struggle to survive as a result of this further 8.75 per cent cut in fees’.
According to Caplen, the Law Society has produced evidence from over 120 firms suffering after the previous cuts. Firms, he said, ‘are on the edge of financial viability’.
LAG heralds groundbreaking play
Oscar winner Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s play The Invisible, currently premiering at the Bush Theatre, is being marked by a special commemorative programme, published by LAG.
The play is set in the fictional Cromwell Law Centre, but the author drew heavily on the experiences of those working in the legal aid sector with first hand experience of the impact of the LASPO cuts on clients.
A copy of the programme, featuring an interview with Lenkiewicz by Legal Action editor Fiona Bawdon, is included with this issue of the magazine.