CASES and hearings were disrupted as lawyers protested against cuts which could have a serious impact on access to justice.
Barristers and lawyers took part in a day of action on Friday in opposition to the Ministry of Justice’s legal aid cuts of £220m, as well as marching in Westminster.
Many of the court rooms at Harrow Crown Court in Hailsham Drive, Harrow, did not hear the listed cases, and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, an agency of the Ministry of Justice said: “Two courtrooms out of seven sat both in the morning and afternoon.”
Philip Misner, a criminal barrister at 4 Breams Buildings chambers, and a member of the Criminal Bar Association, volunteered to spend the day observing Harrow Crown Court.
He said: “Of eight court rooms, five were non-effective completely.
“All eight courts were affected, five of them were frozen and couldn’t do anything at all.
“Minor matters went ahead and one case with an unrepresented defendant, but it was all a variation on a theme.
“Broadly speaking the courts didn’t do anything at all.
“It was up to each individual to choose if they took part, but almost 100 per cent of defence barristers and solicitors chose not to work.”
Cases had been listed in seven out of eight court rooms at Harrow.
Some minor hearings went ahead as judges set dates for future hearings and took care of small matters.
The cuts to legal aid – which see the fees paid to barristers reduced by six per cent – come into force in April and follow a range of cuts last year for family and housing cases, which would have been eligible for legal aid.
Director of Harrow Law Centre, Pamela Fitzpatrick, said: “We did not go on strike but we are completely supportive of the strike.
“It is not about lawyers’ salaries, it is about access to justice for ordinary people.
“Nine law centres have closed in the last six months across the country because of cuts to legal aid.
“There have been a whole range of cuts and there are still more to come.
“After the cuts last time, people can’t get advice for disrepair cases and if they are living in poor accommodation, it means that people have lost their homes because of the cut in legal aid.”
Tim Forte, a barrister who writes a blog under the name ‘utterbarrister’, said fewer cases had been listed for Friday, which is normally the courts busiest day, compared with Monday, and proceedings had been spread over more courts to give the impression of greater capacity.
There were 22 different cases listed for Harrow on Friday and 58 on Monday.
More detailed information on how many cases were disrupted will follow from the Criminal Bar Association.