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Home   Canterbury   News   Article

Criminal lawyers at Canterbury and Maidstone crown courts to protest again over cuts to justice system

07 March 2014
by Paul Hooper

Barristers and solicitors at Canterbury and Maidstone Crown Courts are today protesting again in support of a campaign against legal aid cuts as they join their colleagues in a national demonstration.

The angry lawyers are refusing to turn up for cases - despite a "get-tough" approach from bosses at the Crown Prosecution Service.

It will be the second day of action this year aimed at highlighting swingeing cuts that many believe will harm both defendants and victims of crimes.

Oliver Saxby QC leads barristers in a strike outside Maidstone Crown Court in January

Oliver Saxby QC leads barristers in a strike outside Maidstone Crown Court in January

Now one CPS chief has written to the heads of barristers' chambers threatening they might lose prosecution work if they support the action.

But Oliver Saxby QC, the chairman of the organisation that represents barristers working in Kent, was unapologetic about the action being taken.

He said: "The stakes are high. It's no exaggeration to say that the criminal justice system in Kent - as elsewhere in the country - is very close to breaking point.

"If people are comfortable with the idea of cases being prosecuted by an under-resourced CPS and defended by poorly paid and ill-prepared defence lawyers in understaffed buildings some of which are in a state of chronic disrepair, then fine.

"But of course they aren't. Rightly, they expect the guilty to be convicted and the innocent to be acquitted; and it is exactly these ends which are in jeopardy."

"The stakes are high. It's no exaggeration to say that the criminal justice system in Kent - as elsewhere in the country - is very close to breaking point..." - Oliver Saxby QC

The senior barrister, who has been involved in many of the most serious criminal cases in Kent during the past 10 years, added: "It's to the shame of this government that, largely speaking, it's been able to persuade the public in to thinking that things are fine and that all lawyers are fat cats deserving of yet another pay cut - this in spite of the fact pay has already been cut by around 40% in the last few years.

"The figures they've put forward to justify the latest round of savings have been proved to be plain wrong. What's so frustrating is that with a bit of investment - in the infrastructure, technology and those involved in it - the criminal justice system could be so much
leaner, more economical and more efficient.

"But that's quite the opposite of what the government is planning. Instead they've ploughed on regardless, paid lip service to our concerns and have decided to plunder the already massively depleted criminal justice system for yet more savings. Much more, and it just won't be able to survive."

At Maidstone Crown Court today, five judges sat and three lawyers for the Crown Prosecution Service attended for preliminary and plea and case management hearings.

A group of barristers briefly congregated outside the building in Barker Road, but did not go into court.

Most defendants were informed there had to be an adjournment because they were not legally represented.

Judge Charles Macdonald QC cryptically told a jury of seven women and five men hearing an ongoing bootlegging trial of eight men: "We cannot sit on this trial today. I regret you have had a wasted journey into court.

"I cannot tell you why we are not sitting today, but I want to be very clear about one thing; it is not the fault of the defendants and must not be held against them. 10.30am on Monday."

Judge Philip Statman told defendants either appearing on a TV link with Elmley Prison, Sheppey, or in the dock that they were not represented because of "a day of action" or "industrial action" by lawyers.

Barristers will also go on strike at Canterbury Crown Court

Barristers will also go on strike at Canterbury Crown Court

Chairman of the Law Society's Criminal law committee Richard Atkinson said: "The Lord Chancellor says that his proposals are evidenced based yet when you look at the evidence he received it is hard to see how he or indeed anyone could conclude that it supports his proposals.

"The impact of these changes will be catastrophic in Kent. We are facing cuts of over 30 per cent in the fees paid to solicitors for police station advice. I really fear for the provision of justice in the county in the light of these proposed changes."

The Criminal Bar Association is refusing to call today's action a "strike" because it would, ironically, lead to complex legal contractual issues.

But the lawyers are promising no one's liberty will be compromised by the action.

The Ministry of Justice has said efficiencies are necessary to ensure legal aid remains "sustainable".

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