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Tuesday 25 July 2017

Lawyers' strike set to cause chaos for courts

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

The criminal courts will be hit by huge disruption next week when lawyers stage a walkout over cuts to the criminal legal aid bill.

Criminal law solicitors and barristers will stage a one-day strike next Thursday when they withdraw their services.

They plan to walk out of the criminal courts at 10.30am and not return until the following day -- a move that is likely to cause chaos.

As the €47m allocation for this year for the criminal legal aid scheme overran by €10m, it is likely the Government will have to make additional cuts in the scheme next year.

Last night a circular was sent to all criminal law solicitors and barristers expressing "regret" at the planned strike, which could wreak havoc with prisoners in custody who have to attend court and suspects awaiting bail.

The withdrawal of services at the Criminal Courts of Justice (CCJ) has been called by the Criminal Law Practitioners Organisation (CLPO), a new coalition of barristers and solicitors which has been established to improve the operation of the criminal justice system, including the Criminal Legal Aid (CLA) scheme.

The controversial strike has divided the legal profession, with the ruling bodies for solicitors and barristers refusing to endorse the action. Critically, however, it has the support of all the major criminal law firms in the capital.

If solicitors withdraw their services, barristers will not be able to represent criminal legal aid clients as they must take instructions from solicitors.

Last night Senior Counsel John Aylmer, a committee member of the CLPO, said that the withdrawal of services was called after Justice Minister Alan Shatter refused to hold a meeting with the organisation.

"The organisation regrets that such a proposed course of action is necessary, however the failure of the minister to engage in any meaningful fashion leaves practitioners with no other option," said Mr Aylmer.

The Senior Counsel said that contingency plans will be put in place to ensure that suspects who have applied for bail will have legal representation.

Mr Shatter, who said that he will not be in a position to meet the CLPO until after the Budget -- when the funding allocation for the justice area for 2012 and subsequent years is known -- said he was "surprised" to learn that the new organisation intended to take strike action.

Proposals

"The minister has invited the CLPO to furnish to him their proposals for reducing the cost of criminal legal aid whilst continuing to ensure that the rights of alleged offenders are properly protected," said a spokesman for the Department of Justice.

"To date, the CPLO have failed to furnish to the minister any substantive response to this request."

Last night the Bar Council, the ruling body for barristers, said that it had not initiated the move by the CLPO and did not support the planned strike.

The Law Society, the ruling body for solicitors, said it was "very sympathetic to practitioners who have suffered the brunt of the savage cuts by successive governments in the CLA scheme".

"However, the Society is neither organising nor supporting the proposed withdrawal of services."

Irish Independent

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