Birmingham lawyers gathered in force outside the city’s Crown Court to protest against cuts to the criminal legal aid budget.
Organised by barrister Paul Prior, the demonstration was held to raise awareness of proposed changes that could herald the most radical shake-up of the sector in generations.
Representatives of the Law Society and the Bar Council have already joined forces with other bodies to oppose what they say are “savage cuts” to the funding of the criminal legal aid budget by the Ministry of Justice.
The proposals also include price-competitive tendering and a host of other changes to the criminal justice system.
The Law Society and the Bar Council have branded the proposal to abolish freedom of choice of representation as “an unacceptable inroad into the basic rights of those facing criminal charges”.
They also believe price-competitive tendering will make it uneconomic for firms to provide quality services and prompt “a wholesale exodus from the market”.
Also, they said that fixed contract sizes would make it impossible for smaller firms to remain in the market and provide no incentive for firms to compete on quality.
They have also condemned flat-rate fees where a solicitor would be paid the same for a guilty plea as for a potentially complex case where a client is not guilty as something which could easily lead to miscarriages of justice.
Mr Prior, a barrister based in London who is originally from Solihull, said: “This is likely to be the end of British trials being about quality and the start of British trials being about cost.
“The reality is that the Government wants to pay solicitors and advocates so little that the real quality, talented people holding together a system that is cracking already will do something new entirely because it simply won’t be worth it.
“The message is if you can pay you will be fine, you will have a robust and quality defence but if you don’t have lots of money you will end up with a legal aid practitioner motivated to drive down costs at every turn.’’
The Government’s consultation on the proposals ended this week, signalling the start of a period where responses will be considered before its policy is announced.
A petition has also been launched with the aim of getting the matter debated in Parliament.