Socialist Worker

Lawyers walk out in historic strike to defend Legal Aid

by Annette Mackin
Issue No. 2393

Striking lawyers in Leeds

Striking lawyers in Leeds (Pic: Steve Johnstone)


Courts across England and Wales shut down today, Friday, as barristers and solicitors walked out in an historic strike.

Trials had to be rescheduled to next week, while hundreds of firms were forced to close for the day.

Thousands took part in the unprecedented action, with 3,000 gathering in Westminster to rally and march to the Ministry of Justice. It was the first all-day lawyers’ strike in Britain’s history.

Solicitor Jeremy Guy had come to the protest from Chelmsford. He said, “It’s excellent that barristers and solicitors have come together under a common issue.

“It has to happen again—and it will”

Lawyers are furious at Tory justice minister Chris Grayling’s plans to slash £220 million from the legal aid budget.

Fees to barristers and solicitors will be cut and as a result many will lose their jobs as firms close. The quality of aid provided to poor people will be driven down.

Paddy Hill was one of the Birmingham Six who were framed for the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings that killed 21 people. They were wrongly imprisoned for 17 years.

Paddy told Socialist Worker, “The cuts to legal aid don’t just affect barristers and solicitors—it affects us, the public.

"The politicians are always going on about equality, but the cuts will affect the most vulnerable."

Justice

Friday of next week marks 23 years since the Court of Appeal quashed the convictions of the Birmingham Six after a long fight to get justice.

Paddy said, “If I was in prison today, I would never get legal aid. I would rot in prison, even though they know I was innocent.

“The cuts to legal aid are going to give the crown prosecution service and the police a free hand in the courts to do what they want. This is going to cause a lot more miscarriages of justice.”

After a march through Westminster, lawyers poured into the foyer of the Ministry of Justice chanting, “Grayling, Grayling, Grayling, Out, Out, Out!”

Barristers previously walked out for half a day in January.

The Criminal Prosecution Service (CPS) sent a letter to heads of chambers in the run-up to Friday’s walkout. It said that the strike threatens the relationship between the CPS and the lawyers’ professional organisation the Criminal Bar.

They also warned barristers that they may lose work if they choose to take part in the strike. But lawyers remain determined to fight the cuts.

Ian Lawrence, general secretary of the probation officers union NAPO, told the rally that probation officers would be striking for 24 hours on 31 March. He urged lawyers to co-ordinate action with the probation officers.

Thanks to Steve Johnston and Camille Tsang

 


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