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Lawyers stage strike in Sussex over cuts to legal aid
Solicitors and barristers are planning a protest outside court today against cuts to legal aid.
Crown and magistrates’ court solicitors from across Sussex will join colleagues from across the country in a strike against legal aid cuts for criminal defence solicitors and barristers.
It follows an announcement by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling that the Government will be making cuts in criminal legal aid fees of 17.5% on average for solicitors and 6% for barristers.
Some cuts are set to come into effect this month, while solicitors’ reductions are being staggered over a year.
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Meanwhile, estimates suggest the number of duty solicitor contracts will be cut from around 1,600 to just 525.
Sussex-based solicitors have said they fear law firms will be forced to close.
Cerys Sayer, a solicitor with Mulrooney Craghill in Grand Parade, Brighton, will join colleagues outside Brighton Magistrates’ and Crown Court this morning.
She said “miscarriages of justice” could occur if the cuts went ahead.
She added: “Imminent cuts will be so severe that there will be an immediate cull of legal service providers in Sussex, with excellent reputations.
“Those still in business will have to cling on for over a year in the hope that they will be one of a limited number of firms ‘chosen’ to cover new work at the police stations and courts across Sussex before enduring a further cut.
“A recent case demonstrates the dire deficit criminal defence lawyers are already working at.
“A person who had never been in trouble with the law before, who worked for a very modest wage, was charged with an allegation of grievous bodily harm.
“They pleaded not guilty and a trial was listed at Lewes Crown Court. The person was granted legal aid because of his low means and the seriousness of the charge.
“Due to the dedicated commitment of a senior solicitor the prosecution withdrew the case the day before trial, due to lack of evidence. The outcome was the right one. However, the 20 or so hours of work that it took to achieve this was only valued at £731.48, and the case is therefore clearly run at a loss.
A Crown Prosecution Service spokeswoman said: “We enjoy an effective relationship with the bar in our work to deliver a quality prosecution service. It is important that prosecutions are not disrupted and we expect any court business listed for March 7 to be prosecuted by the instructed advocate in accordance with their professional obligations. In respect of prosecution work, the CPS Graduated Fee Scheme and Very High Cost Case fee schemes were introduced two years ago and are operating effectively.”
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