Trouble is brewing in the UK over legal aid with threats of a strike against government plans to cut back further on legal aid funding in both England and Wales.
Cutbacks in legal aid have already created significant problems for many legal aid lawyers and major opposition has been previously mounted by the legal profession in the UK. However the latest government moves which is designed to create a competitive tendering situation in the government’s bid to cut £2 billion in the legal aid spend is a bridge too far for lawyers.
They maintain that it will not only deny justice for many, but also potentially destroy smaller law firms.
The BBC reports: Up to £350m is to be saved by removing legal aid for civil cases including employment, clinical negligence, family problems and divorce proceedings. If this coalition government don’t start listening to lawyers, to judges and to people in the system who are at the coalface, who can see this system coming in and going dramatically wrong, there is every chance that we will take direct action”
In April Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is due to start consulting on introducing competitive tendering to cut the costs of legal aid for criminal cases.It would mean law firms would bid for work to defend people facing criminal charges.
Mr Taylor, who is based at chambers in Cardiff and has been practising criminal law for 18 years, told BBC Wales’ Sunday Politics that big firms with less experienced lawyers will take a slice of the legal aid budget.
“They’re not lawyers, they don’t have experience,” he said.
“The provision of legal service for ordinary people in Wales is going to diminish and this government is going to abolish a very good system and a first class criminal justice system that we’ve taken hundreds of years to be able to improve and refine and overnight they could cut away that and what we’d be left with is a legal armageddon.
He added: “If this coalition government don’t start listening to lawyers, to judges and to people in the system who are at the coalface, who can see this system coming in and going dramatically wrong, there is every chance that we will take direct action.
“If we do go on strike, we won’t be going on strike for a pay rise, that’s out of the question.
“We’ve had a pay cut in the past 10 years – we will be going on strike and taking industrial action to safeguard the rights of the individual.”In a statement, the Ministry of Justice said: “We are still spending £1bn on criminal legal aid every year and when you look at some of the costs involved – with certain cases costing between £10m and £15m each – they seem very high.
“While we have every reason to be proud of our legal aid system we are concerned about public confidence in the levels of money being spent and can no longer avoid taking a careful look at the entire system.”