A murder case at the Old Bailey was reported to be the first hit by barristers’ direct action over reforms to the advocates graduated fee scheme. Kema Salum appeared for his first hearing over the death of his wife. The mother-of-one had been repeatedly stabbed in the neck and chest at their home in Haringey.
According to a Press Association report, no defence barrister was present to represent him in court. His solicitor, Seona White, of BSB Solicitors, said she had contacted more than 20 chambers but not one barrister was prepared to take on the case. ‘I do not know how long the situation will last with counsel not taking on legal aided work. I hope it would be resolved quickly,’ she said.
The Law Society Gazette reported that at least 50 chambers had joined the action at the end of last week including Doughty Street, Matrix and 25 Bedford Row. On Friday, 5 King’s Bench Walk published a statement saying: ‘Enough is enough. It is our responsibility to stand up and refuse to accept cases. We do so with a heavy heart.’
‘We cannot ignore the future to come. We judge it more important that, if we do not take a stand now, we become complicit in permitting our justice system to collapse. We are not prepared to allow it because it is our legacy.’
5 King’s Bench Walk
In a statement by the Criminal Law Solicitors Association published on Friday, the group said that it would ‘liase’ with the Bar and provide ‘as much information as we can on any barristers who are not accepting work’.
CLSA members are also higher-court advocates. ‘They face the same issues as the Bar and we are aware that many are also now declining to accept publicly funded work post-April 1,’ the CLSA pointed out.
The group warned members that they should ‘not allow themselves to be forced into acting as an advocate in a case where by reason of skill, experience, or lack of time to prepare, they do not believe they can properly discharge their duty by acting’. ‘The AGFS scheme is not remunerated under the terms of the 2017 crime contracts and firms are under no duty to provide higher court advocacy under the contract,’ the CLSA said. ‘Should firms choose to instruct an higher court advocate at their firm or another, they must be satisfied that the choice of counsel is appropriate and record their decision on file.’
The CLSA said that it supported the Bar in its ‘fight for a properly funded justice system which the public deserve’. ‘However, the AGFS issue is not the only fight,’ the group said. ‘There is of course the litigators’ graduated fee scheme which is currently subject to judicial review. At some stage there will be a full review of the litigators’ graduated fee scheme as there has been with the AGFS . There are many more areas of contention. At this time unity between the professions is essential now and in the future to ensure not only the survival of our once fair, just and much envied CJS but also the survival of the lawyers who are so important to the running of the system.’
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