Last Thursday saw a tremendous victory for legal aid. After three years of campaigning Michael Gove announced a U-turn on the government’s plans for a two-tier duty contracts system.
He also suspended an 8.75 percent cut to legal aid fees paid to solicitors.The plans could have led to the closure of up to 1000 criminal defence firms.
This is wonderful vindication that standing together can win. The campaign had stopped the previous Minister of Justice, Chris Grayling’s attempt to deny the right to choose your own solicitor.
This victory has stopped the overall attack on criminal defence. The campaign started with solicitors getting organised, within the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA), and the Criminal Lawyers Solicitors Association (CLSA).
It was supported by several justice campaigns, such as for Gerry Conlan, Paddy Hill, Patrick McGuire and Raphael Rowe.
During the period of campaigning and action we saw solicitors and barristers refusing to work in the courts, for the first time in history.
There was joint action with probation officers’ union NAPO, who faced similar atrocious plans for probation. Justice Alliance, LCCSA and CLSA called rallies, protests and events regularly throughout the campaign.
Some 16,000 consultation responses told the government that the two-tier scheme was unworkable and a disaster for access to justice.
But the Ministry of Justice and Legal Aid Agency ploughed on with the cuts.
Finally, as predicted, a welter of litigation brought by the Fair Crime Contract Alliance and other individual firms finally put paid to the scheme.
The three years of determination that led to this victory can inspire us for the serious battles that remain.