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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.

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Birmingham Post Legal Column
13 February 2014



On the 11th February, MPs met in London to discuss the Government’s proposed cuts to the Legal Aid budget. It’s a contentious issue that has been met with widespread disapproval from the legal community.

The cuts threaten the closure of hundreds of firms of solicitors nationwide, while barristers face bankruptcy. In January, barristers took to the streets of Birmingham in protest to the cuts; such was the level of their anger at the proposals.

And it’s not just the legal sector the cuts will affect. For the public, the scope and quality of service lawyers provide will be significantly reduced.

It is good that MPs have met to discuss the issue, but from the messages I have received to date from local MPs, I don’t believe they fully appreciate the impact the Legal Aid cuts could have on the public, never mind the legal profession.

Where do the public go for assistance if there are no specialist lawyers to help? Doctors funded by the NHS are always on hand to assist with health problems but legal problems are apparently deemed unworthy of a substantive financial solution.

The Government’s own appointed Solicitors Regulation Authority has power, which it has recently exercised to close down firms who “do not run their practice in a business-like manner” when they are perceived to run at a loss.

The legal profession will always attempt to defend the principle of access to justice to all and not only to those who can afford it. This is an ethical and moral principle but ethics and morals do not pay wages.

Admittedly, it is those plying their trade in the area of criminal law who these cuts will affect the most. Those practising commercial law will be largely unaffected. However, that should not stop us from supporting our colleagues and standing up for what is right. After all, justice is justice.


 11 February 2014

Birmingham Law Society announces Legal Awards 2014 finalists

The finalists in this year’s Birmingham Law Society Legal Awards have been announced.

FBC Manby Bowdler LLP, Gateley LLP, Higgs & Sons Solicitors, Irwin Mitchell LLP, Mills & Reeve LLP and SGH Martineau LLP have been drawn together in the Law Firm of the Year (16 partners or more) category, with DBS Law Limited, Keoghs, Quality Solicitors Talbots, Sydney Mitchell LLP and Wallace Robinson & Morgan short-listed for the Law Firm of the Year (5 to 15 partners) award.

In the Law Firm of the Year (up to four partners) category there are debut entries for Bailey Wright & Co, Christine Lee & Co (Solicitors) Limited, and Pearson Rowe. Sarah Dwight Solicitors and TRP Solicitors Ltd make up the short list.

In a slight change to the Legal Awards, a new category has been added for Paralegal of the Year. The finalists include Sam Harris from Weightmans LLP, Joshua Hartle from SGH Martineau LLP, Tobias Oliver Haynes from Regulatory Legal Solicitors, Rose Klemperer from Anthony Collins Solicitors LLP, and Michael Nutman from Shoosmiths LLP.

In total there are 11 categories, including Assistant/Associate Solicitor of the Year, Barrister of the Year, Chartered Legal Executive of the Year, International Lawyer of the Year, Partner of the Year, Trainee Solicitor of the Year, and Corporate Social Responsibility/Pro Bon Lawyer of the Year. A special Lifetime Achievement Award will also be presented on the night.

Last year’s recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award was Peter Wiseman.

The winners will be decided by an independent judging panel, chaired by Chris Loughran, Midlands practice senior partner at Deloitte.

Martin Allsopp, president of Birmingham Law Society, said: “The Legal Awards is Birmingham Law Society’s flagship event and it is great to see that it continues to be well supported, both in terms of the number of entries we receive and the number of guests on the night.

“It is also good to see that as well as some of the more regular entrants to the awards we are getting entries from new firms and individuals. We have also introduced a new category this year, Paralegal of the Year, to recognise the sterling work paralegals do and the valuable contribution they make.

“All in all it is shaping up to be a fantastic evening of celebration.”

The Birmingham Law Society Legal Awards are being held on Thursday 20th March 2014 at the ICC, Birmingham.

The Awards are sponsored by The University of Law, PHS Data Solutions, University of Wolverhampton, Severn Trent Searches, Giles Insurance Brokers, Birmingham Airport, Turkish Airlines, No5 Chambers, Key Forensic Services Ltd, Chiltern Railways, Landmark Information Group, St Philip’s Chambers, Rathbones, Wesleyan for Lawyers and Yorkshire Bank.

For a full list of this year’s finalists go to

 5 February, 2014

Petition: "Save legal aid to protect access to justice for all"

No justice system is truly fair unless everyone is able to fight for their rights. But through cuts to legal aid, the government has removed a cornerstone of our society, cutting all but the richest off from our courts.

Among those who rely on legal aid: innocent people who have been wrongfully jailed, homeless children who need a roof over their head, Gurkhas and other heroes who fought for our country, and victims of domestic violence.

The government’s changes to legal aid will put justice out of reach for many ordinary people.

We the undersigned call on the government to halt or repeal all changes that have been proposed in Transforming Legal Aid, which have no mandate since the Liberal Democrat motion opposing them in September 2013.  Many of the changes have been criticised by Parliament's expert human rights committee. We believe that these changes to civil and criminal legal aid undermine the rule of law (fairness) and access to justice: they will lead to an unequal society where those with wealth and power have an unfair advantage before the law.

Joanna Lumley

For Justice Alliance