CRIMINAL cases due for hearing at Dublin’s circuit and district courts could be disrupted today as a group of lawyers protest over cuts to the legal aid system.
A number of criminal law solicitors and barristers, members of the Criminal Law Practitioners Organisation (CLPO), are planning to withdraw their services at the six district courts at the Criminal Courts of Justice. The CLPO has estimated that up to 200 cases could be affected.
According to the Courts Service, it will be up to judges to decide, in each case, what action should be taken.
A spokesman for the Bar Council said they were not supporting the CLPO action and that lawyers “were professionally obliged to represent their client”.
“A barrister is professionally obliged to appear in court when instructed to do so by a solicitor but a barrister can’t appear in court without his solicitor being present,” she said.
The Courts Service spokesman said all cases due today “are listed to be heard as normal”.
There are currently around 2000 solicitors and 850 barristers under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme. However, it’s thought that CLPO membership is much smaller.
The CLPO have expressed concern that legal aid cuts would mean that lawyers representing the prosecution and defence would not longer earn equal fees.
They say fees for practitioners had been cut by 30% across the board since 2007 and a further 20% cut in the legal aid budget was anticipated.
CLPO spokesman, Dara Robinson said lawyers will still handle bail applications for accused persons currently in custody.
The Law Society, which represents solicitors, said it was not supporting the proposed withdrawal of services, but was sympathetic to practitioners who had suffered cuts by successive governments.
However, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has dismissed this argument saying that the DPP cut prosecution fees by 10% days after cuts were announced for criminal legal aid lawyers. He said there was sufficient professional capacity on the legal aid panels to ensure cases proceed, even if the CLPO action goes ahead.
“There would appear to be sufficient capacity on the panels to provide adequate representation to criminal legal aid clients and the Minister expects that those on the criminal legal aid panel will comply with their professional obligations
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved