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Solicitors refuse to work at Brighton Magistrates' Court over legal aid cuts but deny 'strike' aciton
Solicitors who refused to work yesterday said their action in response to cuts in legal aid was not a strike.
Defence solicitors and barristers from across the county congregated outside Brighton Magistrates’ Court yesterday morning over plans to reduce legal aid fees in criminal cases by 17.5% on average for solicitors and 6% for barristers.
The professionals fear cutting the aid, which uses public funds to pay for legal advice or representation, may leave people who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer unrepresented in court. They also fear the cuts, which include reducing the 1,600 duty solicitor contracts across the country to just 525, will force law firms to close.
Jane MacDougall of WMC Legal, in Worthing, said yesterday: “We’re not striking, because we’re all self-employed and not part of a union. It’s simply a day, a training day, where we have made ourselves not available to attend court.
“We are unable to provide cover for a day nationally to try to bring attention to the effect that the cuts are likely to have on defence works for the future.”
She said under the changes, the number of duty solicitor contracts in the county will be reduced to five.
Linda Filby, an independent solicitor, said: “I won’t get a duty solicitor’s contract if there are only five in this area. As a disabled person I may not be able to merge with another firm because I can’t guarantee that another firm will give me a position.”
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Local solicitors said there is a misconception that lawyers are well paid but the idea of London ‘fat cats’ is not true in Sussex, where they claim to work hard for little reward. Yesterday they warned their commitment can only go so far.
Miss MacDougall said: “When you get to the stage where people cannot afford to pay their mortgages, can’t afford their child care, the whole system is going to fall apart.”
It is not just the future of firms that are a concern; it is also the effect on criminal justice in the future.
Local judiciaries are said to be supportive of the actions and understand that firms took part in ‘training days’ to attempt some form of future for the defence system.
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