Region's courts may grind to a standstill as lawyers protest over legal aid cuts (From The Advertiser Series)
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Region's courts may grind to a standstill as lawyers protest over legal aid cuts
SOME crown courts in the region will grind to a virtual standstill tomorrow (Friday) as lawyers take industrial action for the second time in two months.
Barristers and solicitors are following up January's half-day of action with a full day walk-out at most major court centres across the country.
The Criminal Bar Association's move comes as a row over cuts to legal aid intensifies - with claims lawyers are facing a cut in fees of up to 30 per cent.
Members argue that the payments they receive are already so low that many of the best lawyers are leaving criminal work to specialise in other areas.
Ian West is hoping the vast majority of the country's 7,000 criminal barristers will support the action - which was unprecedented in January.
Mr West, from Fountain Chambers in Middlesbrough, is expecting dozens to join the strike at Teesside and Newcastle, but the picture at Durham is unclear.
The CBA says the Government is pushing ahead with plans to reduce the number of criminal solicitor practises from 1,600 to 526 despite the opposition.
In the Cleveland Police force area, which stretches from Hartlepool to Staithes and includes Middlesbrough and Stockton, they will be cut from 16 to four.
"The Government has declared its hand and said what is is going to do, and we've said we're not having it," Mr West told The Northern Echo.
Ahead of the action in January, lawyers leader Nigel Lithman described the move as "the biggest threat to our criminal justice system in 400 years".
Lord Faulks, QC, the Minister of State for the Ministry of Justice in the House of Lords, came out in support of those opposing the planned changes.
He said: “It is beyond argument that criminal barristers are, for the most part, very moderately paid . . . the criminal Bar is a profession in crisis.
“I fear that the fat has been so far removed from the carcass of criminal legal aid that these further cuts really threaten our justice system."
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling controversially wants to cut lawyers' fees as part of a bid to slash £220m from the legal aid budget by 2018-19.
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