Portsmouth court cases adjourned as barristers’ industrial action kicks in

Portsmouth law courts
Portsmouth law courts
Benjamin Peace

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SEVERAL criminal cases have been adjourned as barristers take industrial action over cuts to legal aid.

Just last week a case of a man accused of wielding a shotgun was adjourned at Portsmouth Crown Court as he had no representation.

A solicitor was present at the case, but they have no higher rights of audience, meaning they cannot deal with a case in crown courts.

It comes as barristers at 2 King’s Bench Walk, in Guildhall Walk, Portsmouth, have publicly said they are supporting the Criminal Bar Association’s action launched last month.

The association said barristers’ fees had been cut by 40 per cent over 20 years, and cuts to the legal aid fee were the final straw.

Daren Milton, senior clerk at 2KBW, said his chambers hoped the need for action ‘will soon pass’ and wanted government to ‘invest properly’ in the criminal justice system.

Mr Milton said: ‘2KBW are not accepting instructions to defend in cases where the representation order is granted on or after April 1 2018 until further notice.

‘As such, we are supporting the action called for by the CBA and endorsed by sets of chambers across England and Wales.

‘We hope that the need for action will soon pass and that there will be serious commitment by the government to invest properly in the criminal justice system, including advocacy fees, in order to provide a viable future for the criminal bar, with the recruitment and retention of talented individuals, from a wide range of backgrounds, to carry out this important work as well as providing a source of suitable candidates for judicial positions.’

Several cases have been adjourned in Portsmouth due to defendants not having a barrister to represent them.

In one case a defendant was willing to enter a plea to a serious assault but a judge adjourned so the man could get proper legal advice.

Criminal defence solicitor Tim Sparkes, from Rowe Sparkes Partnership based in Southsea, said he supported the action.

Mr Sparkes said: ‘We do support what they’re doing but we still have to make efforts to make the system work, although those efforts don’t result in anything as there’s no-one able or willing to take on crown court work. Most solicitors are not qualified to deal with those cases, that’s why we have specialist counsel to do them. It’s certainly going to have a major impact.’

Solicitors have been warned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority that they must make ‘proper efforts’ to find a replacement advocate.

The action started on April 1, with many cases potentially running into difficulty as they reach crown court this week from magistrates’ court.

The Ministry of Justice says reform to the revised Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme would ‘reflect the actual work done in court, representing better value for the tax payer, and will replace an archaic scheme under which barristers were able to bill by pages of evidence.’