HEARINGS at Warwick Crown Court were thrown into chaos on Friday as many cases were unable to go ahead as a result of barristers’ action in protest at planned cuts in legal aid fees.
Barristers throughout the country have adopted a ‘no returns’ policy as they join solicitors in taking action against an 8.75 per cent cut in fees for legal aid work.
Normally, as a goodwill policy, barristers stand in for colleagues who are unable to attend a court to act for a defendant because of higher priority commitments elsewhere, such as being involved in a part-heard trial.
But under the ‘no returns’ action barristers will only appear in court to act for defendants on legal aid in their own cases – and will not take on other barristers’ cases.
It was anticipated the crown court system would begin to fall apart following the withdrawal of the goodwill returns policy.
And just how badly courts will be affected became all too apparent at Warwick Crown Court, where on Friday no fewer than six cases, involving 11 defendants, had to be adjourned because of absent barristers.
Among them were the separate cases of two men who had both been due to be sentenced for offences of downloading indecent images of children.
Three men, one of them from Kenilworth, one from Coventry and one from Harbury, were to be sentenced for burgling a house in Leamington – but their case could not go ahead when the barrister due to act for one of them did not attend.
The case of two men from Coventry who were expecting to be sentenced for supplying cocaine had to be adjourned when neither defence barrister appeared.
Graeme Simpson, who was representing one of three men who were due to be sentenced for a robbery, said there was no-one at court to represent one of his co-defendants.
Recorder Adrian Redgrave QC pointed out that the defendant himself had not been brought to the court from prison.
But, with no-one to represent him anyway, there was no point arranging for him to appear via the video link which was operating between the court and the jail.
The final case that had to be adjourned was that of a man who was due to be sentenced for an assault in Rugby.
He was told by Recorder Redgrave: “The offence to which you have pleaded guilty is serious, and in my view you ought to be represented.”
Similar disruption is expected to continue at courts throughout the Midlands this week.