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Birmingham Law Society hosts networking night

Members of Birmingham Law Society enjoyed an evening of networking at the Radisson Blu Hotel for the final social event in its current presidential calendar.

More than 80 people attended the event, which gave members the opportunity to meet with BLS’s president, Martin Allsopp, before he steps down at the Society’s AGM later this month.

Also in attendance were members of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), who were invited as part of the Society’s aim to network with other professionals in the city.

A cheque for £15,500 was also presented to the president’s nominated charity St Basils on the night.

The event was sponsored by Landmark Information Group and Wesleyan for Lawyers.

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Death Announcement

It is with regret that we announce the sad death of the late Robert (Bob) Garratt DFC LLB who sadly died on 14 March 2014.  His funeral is to take place at Chester Crematorium on 27th March at 2.00 pm.

Bob Garratt was a former past President of Birmingham Law Society in 1978 and was actively involved in the legal affairs of the West Midlands until his retirement from practice at the age of 76.  Bob was awarded the DFC for involvement in dangerous missions during the Burma campaign as a wartime Hurricane pilot with the RAF.

Martin Allsopp

President

Julian Tonks, former Senior Partner at Pinsents, passed away last week

It is with sadness that the death is announced of Julian Tonks, former Senior Partner at Pinsent Masons. Mr Tonks stepped down as Senior Partner in 2005 due to illness.

A funeral and memorial service is to be held on

Friday 14 March 2014 at 11am at

St Mary the Virgin
Bridgnorth Road
Enville
Staffs.


Courts across the Midlands could grind to a halt on Friday, 7 March, as barristers and solicitors stage a mass walk-out in protest to Government cuts to the legal aid budget.

Birmingham Crown Court and Magistrates’ Court will be affected. In addition, proceedings at Coventry Crown Court and Wolverhampton Crown Court and magistrates’ courts in Coventry, Wolverhampton, Sandwell, Dudley, Walsall, Redditch, Kidderminster and Worcester are likely to be disturbed.

The protest is in response to the Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling’s latest round of cuts, announced on 27 February, which saw a further £220million shaved off the legal aid bill. It follows on from a court boycott by law workers on 6 January, the first in 400 years.

As a result of the cuts, solicitors specialising in criminal litigation are to have their fees cut by 17.5 per cent – an 8.75 per cent cut comes into force from 20 March this year, with a further 8.75 per cent implemented in March/April next year.

Barristers will have their fees reduced by six per cent, on top of the 30 per cent cut to fees for complex cases implemented in December 2013.

In addition, the number of firms who undertake duty solicitor work - advising those detained by the police of their legal rights – will be slashed from more than 1,200 to 525 across England and Wales.

In the West Midlands, just 13 contracts will be available, for which firms will need to compete.

Birmingham Law Society (BLS), the biggest regional law society in the country, representing more than 4,000 solicitors and barristers across the West Midlands, has condemned the cuts.

James Turner, chairman of BLS’s criminal law committee, attended a consultation with Chris Grayling at The Law Society’s Chancery Lane headquarters in February.

He said: “Our worst fears have been confirmed. The impact on the criminal justice system will be devastating.”

According to Mr Turner, the cuts will result in many firms going out of business, which means those accused of a crime will find it harder to find representation.

In Birmingham, there are currently 53 firms providing duty solicitors to the central Birmingham scheme. The new system will see just 13 contracts awarded across the entire West Midlands Criminal Justice Service (CJS) area. This means that firms in Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton, Solihull, Sandwell and Dudley will all have to compete for the handful of contracts.

Mr Turner said: “A large number of the firms I have spoken with have confirmed that if they do not get a duty provider contract their business will no longer be viable.

“Even if they win a contract, firms are concerned about how they will gear up to provide a service across the whole CJS area, particularly as there are no fees for travel or waiting time.

“The Government has suggested that firms merge, or form consortia to bid for the contracts, but this is easier said than done. Scaling up requires resources, infrastructure, IT resources and management skills, which many of them lack. What’s more, it will be nigh on impossible to secure bank funding to underwrite this exercise, given the odds of winning a contract.”

Martin Allsopp, president of Birmingham Law Society, believes the cuts will result in a two-tier legal system.

He said: “Under the new regime, society’s most vulnerable people and hard working families will struggle to get experienced representation. Justice in the future may now be only available to those who can afford it.

“Already a number of serious fraud trials have been hit as barristers are unable to act for defendants on the new lower rates. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

“The Government is wreaking irreparable damage on our criminal justice system, which to date has been the envy of the world. I am concerned we will see the innocent go to prison and the guilty walk free as a result.”

Martin Allsopp and James Turner will be among those outside Birmingham Crown Court on Friday 7 March.