Minutes of meeting of Solicitors on 19th March in Manchester

On the 19th March 2014 the CLSA and LCCSA jointly held a National Criminal Solicitors Meeting at The Palace Hotel in Manchester.

With the Government’s publication of the final response to consultation being circulated only on the 27th February, some two and a half months after the scheduled publication date, this left little time to organise such a meeting before Phase 1 of the response, the cut of 8.75% became operational on the 20th March.

Notwithstanding the shortage of time there was an enormous turnout for the meeting with roughly 500 attending the event from all corners of England and Wales and the total contract count in the room being 721 including proxy votes. Both the CLSA and LCCSA would like to thank all of those who attended at such short notice and those who although unable to attend made sure that someone who was attending held their proxy vote.

There will undoubtedly be further such meetings called with more time to allow people to make the necessary plans and those who were unable to attend and those who just did not bother are very much encouraged to attend on the next occasion.

Those who did attend made their feelings very clear indeed. A resounding declaration of continued opposition to the initial cut of 8.75%.

With the cut just hours away from the meeting itself, the initial mood was one of great concern. The profession is only too well aware that the market is very fragile, that the Otterburn Report discloses that the average profit margin is just 5% and the prospects of these ill-advised cuts are very damaging indeed.

However, the mood of the meeting was lifted with news that there is encouraging advice about the prospect of a legal challenge to the Government’s proposals by way of what can be described as Mr Grayling’s favourite legal proceedings, Judicial Review.

CLSA Chair, Bill Waddington, briefly outlined the Judicial Review point to the meeting and also addressed the profession on the huge damage that will undoubtedly be caused by the initial cut.

Paul Harris, former LCCSA President, addressed the meeting on the Work to Rule Policy and extending the very successful no returns policy. A link to the Work to Rule policy can be found here http://www.clsa.co.uk/index.php?q=Working-to-the-Rules

Matt Foot, of Justice Alliance, addressed the meeting on further training days.

The meeting was very ably chaired by Rhona Friedman, LCCSA and Justice Alliance member.

The following proposals were put and unanimously carried.

1. The profession does not accept the cuts and does not recognise them as legitimate. The profession maintains its total opposition to the cuts and reserves the right to consider in future whether to accept them. The profession will continue to work at the reduced rates but only under duress and mindful of its continuing obligations to staff and clients. A refusal to work at new rates will be kept under review.
2. The profession will work with the Bar to consider the action of no instructions in the Crown Court from a date to be announced.
3. The profession will adopt a policy of ultra-compliance with the criminal procedure rules and a total withdrawal of all goodwill across every part of the Criminal Justice System and there will be no work on any case until a Legal Aid Order is in place.
4. There will be further training days including the 31st March and 1st April. Due to training commitments the profession will be unable to cover both Court work and Police Station work and this will extend to Duty Work.
5. The profession will mandate The Law Society for financial support towards the Judicial Review proceedings.
6. The profession agrees to contribute to funding of the Judicial Review proceedings and for political lobbying.

The clear message from the meeting to Government was that the profession will continue to fight these proposals in order to persuade the Government that to continue on its course will irreparably damage the Criminal Justice System.