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One Bar One Voice

Following the continued threat by the Ministry of Justice to cut Legal Aid fees the Bar Council organised a further meeting at Lincoln's Inn in order to consider the potential effects on the criminal justice system. Victoria Hoyle and Julia Cox attended the meeting which took place on 8 February 2014.

The meeting provided the opportunity to understand the current position as well as to understand what steps are currently being undertaken by the Circuit Leaders, the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association. The meeting also provided a forum at which the opinions of others as to the 'next steps' to be taken could be aired. The meeting allowed for the criminal bar, in particular, to appreciate the level of support in existence from other practice areas. The leaders of the Chancery Bar and Family Law Bar Associations were also present.

The Family Law Bar Association were extremely sympathetic having recently been subjected to significant cuts. The impact of the cuts sustained by the Family Law Bar were emphasised with reference to recent cases which highlighted how the removal of Legal Aid had the potential to lead to serious risks of injustice.

The extent of the support for the current position from the Chancery Bar was to some extent a surprise. It is significant as the Chancery Bar will be largely unaffected by any cuts which are put in place by the Ministry of Justice. However, the depth of feeling held at the Commercial Bar about the proposals resulting in injustices in the criminal courts and the loss of their criminal counterparts is noteworthy. If nothing else, it highlights just how much support there is from across the Bar. It extends to the Lord Chief Justice who had stated "survival of one bar is essential to the way we do justice".

It was not only the Bar who were represented at the meeting, Paul Harris, the former President of the LCCSA spoke about the impact upon solicitors. In particular, he outlined that this was not a fight where the Bar were supporting Solicitors or Solicitors supporting the Bar; it was quite simply a united fight to ensure that the Criminal Justice System was maintained at the current level.

The Junior Bar were represented by Hannah Evans, a third six pupil. She was described by one of her friends as 'the Government's poster girl' having worked her way to the Criminal Bar from what was Wales' largest council estate. Her point was quite simple, if the cuts are brought in, those from poorer backgrounds, who the Government want to encourage to become the Barristers of the future, will be unable to consider it as a career, as it will not be a viable option.

During the meeting, various suggestions were made as to the next steps in the fight against the Government's proposed cuts. Many suggestions revolved around further direct action although other options are being mooted. It is understood that the DPP and the Lord Chief Justice have been spoken to and are sympathetic.

It is anticipated that there will be a further announcement this week about the next step...