Options for activists arrested during ongoing direct action by solicitors against legal aid cuts
Netpol fully supports the direct action by solicitors firms around the country, who are currently protesting against government cuts in legal aid. This is our guide for anyone who is arrested and requires legal representation while the ‘strike’ continues.
Solicitors across much of England and Wales began refusing to take on new legal aid cases from 1 July, although they continue to support existing and privately funded clients. If you are arrested, this means many of the firms on our list of recommended criminal solicitors will refuse to attend a police station to advise you prior to interview, will not provide telephone advice or otherwise advise on any aspects of your case.
Currently this includes firms in London, Cardiff, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle.
A duty solicitor will remain available but duty cover is invariably inadequate or even explicitly harmful. In addition, the direct action by firms is likely to overwhelm the duty rota system and result in long delays before you even see a duty solicitor. The Law Society Gazette has reported that the Duty Solicitor Call Centre is buckling under the pressure to find police station cover.
We therefore recommend waiving your right to a duty solicitor and giving a “no comment” interview if the police decide to question you. You may want to say something like “my lawyer is on strike and in the absence of legal advice, I am giving a no comment interview”.
Green & Black Cross *GBC) warns detainees that the police “are likely… to put extra pressure on people to take duty solicitors or accept a caution. Be prepared for this, stand your ground and don’t accept a caution – it usually means they don’t have enough evidence to convict you.”
If you are charged and taken to magistrates’ court, you will still have no legal representation. The court usher will direct you to a duty solicitor who can provide you with some basic assistance, or alternatively you may want to represent yourself, particularly if the court hearing is simply to confirm your name and address and to decide on bail. You may decide that using a duty solicitor is a necessary compromise if, for example, you are facing denial of bail and the prospect of imprisonment on remand.
In any event, you should make it clear to the court that you wanted a particular firm to represent you “but they are currently on strike”.
Some firms in cities covered by the solicitors’ action may continue to take on legal aid work in defiance of the call for collective action. It is a matter for you if you would wish to be represented by one of them, but in our view, it is vital that we all show solidarity with those who have worked tirelessly to defend activists and campaigners.
It is impossible to know how long the current action will continue, particularly now that barristers have voted to take solidarity action by refusing any new legal aid work and withdrawing their willingness to travel to courts anywhere in the country at very short notice in order to cover hearings. As GBC point out, “cases move slowly through the system and it’s looking like this strike will have done the trick long before your case comes to trial”.