COURT proceedings in Winchester came to a grinding halt as barristers walked out in protest at government cuts.
In an unprecedented move, lawyers across the county refused to defend or prosecute cases slated for Monday morning (Jan 6).
Members of the bar are furious at the coalition’s attempt to slash the UK’s annual £1bn legal bill and say the very future of justice in the UK is at stake.
They launched a last ditch attempt to halt cuts of up to 25 per cent off legal aid fees, which they say will have far reaching consequences.
In a statement read outside Winchester Crown Court, James Newton-Price, a barrister at Pump Court Chambers, spoke on behalf of the Western Circuit, which has around 1,000 members across Hampshire and the South West.
He said: “A lot of damage is being done to your justice system in your name. There is time – just – for the government to pull back from the brink.
“If it does not, it can never now be said that barristers did not warn everyone about what was happening to justice in our society as a direct result of lazy, ill-judged and socially regressive government policy.”
He added: “If the rates are not appropriate you can no longer attract the right quality of people and the quality of the profession as a whole is reduced. There will be a greater risk of miscarriages of justice.”
Barristers claim that six years’ of cuts mean the latest round amounts to a total of 41 per cent in real terms.
They also argue that around 60 per cent of the bar earn £35,000 or less.
Barrister Adam Feest, of 3PB chambers, also took part in the action and said there is a misconception that all barristers earn large sums.
“We feel that we have already made sacrifices over the years and have already taken huge pay cuts and things have now reached a limit,” he said.
In September, after fierce opposition from law firms, the government U-turned on proposals to award legal aid contracts to the lowest bidder.
Justice minister Chris Grayling claims the proposed cuts would save £220 million a year.