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Lawyers hold legal aid cuts protest
Hundreds of barristers, solicitors and law students gathered today for a protest event designed to show opposition to planned cuts in legal aid.
The meeting, called One Bar: one voice - United for Justice, was organised by the Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales.
A spokesman said: "There were 250 people there, and contributions from all parts of the profession. The meeting reflected a determined mood to keep fighting the Government's cuts agenda."
Lawyers fear the cuts will endanger vulnerable people in need of high quality legal representation.
Nicholas Lavender QC, chairman of the Bar, said before the meeting: "This is a vital opportunity to demonstrate that the whole profession stands together in support of the rule of law and access to justice, which are under grave threat from the Government's proposed cuts."
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has said it is vital to scale back the most expensive legal aid scheme in the world and insisted it will remain ''very generous'' even after the changes.
The Bar Council saw the meeting as the profession's last chance to talk through its concerns on a big scale before the MoJ announces further details of its plans.
Mr Lavender said: "The Government says that it needs to make savings, but the proposed cuts to the fees paid for advocates in the Crown Court are both unnecessary, because legal aid costs are falling anyway, and a false economy, because they will end up generating more costs than they save.
"Under the Ministry of Justice's plans, these cases would no longer be conducted by the skilled and experienced advocates on whom our criminal justice system depends, and the publicly-funded Bar of the future would be significantly less diverse, resulting in less diversity in the judiciary in years to come. The greatest victims would be the public interest and the society which we seek to serve."
An MoJ spokesman said: "At around £2 billion a year we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world, and it would remain very generous even after reform.
"We agree lawyers should be paid adequately for their work and believe our proposals do just that. We also agree legal aid is a vital part of our justice system - that's why we have to find efficiencies to ensure it remains sustainable and available to those most in need of a lawyer.
"We do not underestimate the challenge reform presents for lawyers but there is severe financial pressure that makes it necessary. We are examining every area of the department's work to find savings - legal aid has not been singled out."
The meeting took place at the Great Hall, Lincoln's Inn, central London.