What is one to make of the implied threat from the Minister for Justice and Equality? He has suggested that the proposed Legal Aid strike by members of the Criminal Law Practitioners Organisation is of doubtful legality. This may just be bluster. If it is not, he will, presumably, contemplate a range of options. He might:
a) Remove solicitor strikers from the Legal Aid practitioners’ panel; and/or
b) Refer solicitor strikers to the disciplinary processes of the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal;
(Barristers are chosen by solicitors; consequently they, to partake in the strike, need only have a private conversation with their solicitor benefactors advising them that they are not available for work. The Minister would have his work cut out for him to access the content of such conversations, if not their effect).
He will not choose b); the Tribunal has expressed disappointment that the Minister has tabled proposals to replace them when they have, to paraphrase it, an unblemished record of doing their work.
He may not react at all. His Press Office, HERE, expresses the peculiar language adopted for such happenings;
“The threatened withdrawal of services seems to apply only to defence lawyers operating under the criminal legal aid scheme…”
They were the very people whose incomes were being cut by the Minister and who made the complaint to him. His response was to cut the incomes of other lawyers, as if the substance of the initial complaint was a demand for absolute fairness, even in misery.
Those other lawyers are barristers briefed by the State. No solicitor on the Legal Aid panel works for the State in prosecution work and vice versa. State prosecutions are taken by various solicitors appointed for that purpose in, effectively, County districts around the country. For good and obvious reasons they do not offer services to the general public for defence work.
The Minister says:
“The Minister has invited the Criminal Law Practitioners Organisation 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 being protected.”
This is provocative. The Minister means by this:
“The Minister has invited the Criminal Law Practitioners Organisation to furnish to him their proposals for reducing the [fees paid to criminal law practitioners…]”
The Minister’s mode of expression is a “first strike” in a blame game where the Minister’s antagonists are weak and disparate and their work is obscure to most citizens.