Crime solicitors push to sack Law Society leadership over legal aid cuts

Criminal law solicitors are aiming to sack the Law Society leadership by drumming up a petition for a second special general meeting (SGM) of the professional body.

The campaign is led by Liverpool-based James Parry, who claims that the society’s president, Nicholas Fluck, and chief executive, Des Hudson, “are not fit and proper persons to hold [those] offices”, and should resign immediately.

The move came in the immediate wake of a second protest day organised by the London Criminal Court Solicitors Association (LCCSA) and the Criminal Bar Association, which brought trials to a standstill across the country (7 March 2014).

Parry – a partner at criminal law practice Parry Welch Lacey Solicitors – called a Law Society special general meeting last December (17 December 2013) in which Fluck and Hudson lost a vote of no confidence over the society’s handling of Government plans to slash legal aid rates. But despite losing the vote at a meeting attended by more than 500 solicitors, the senior players resisted calls for their heads, claiming they had the support of the body’s ruling council.

Since that meeting, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) announced plans to proceed with general cuts of 17.5 per cent in two tranches. However, it is broadly accepted that solicitors in some areas, particularly London, could face far higher reductions.

Parry requires 100 signatures to force another open meeting of the Law Society. He confirmed to The Lawyer that he had already more than 75 solicitors on board and he was confident he would hit the requisite target within the next few days.

Chancery Lane claimed the last meeting cost the profession £120,000 to organise. Parry acknowledged today that “in an ideal world, the profession probably doesn’t need the expense of another SGM”, although he maintained the cost of the last meeting was bumped up by the Chancery Lane “shipping in council members for a hastily organised council meeting in a bid to pack out the SGM”.

Parry went on to accuse the Law Society of “not having problems throwing money around – not least when it wants a new City and international executive”, in a reference to suggestions that Allen & Overy partner Stephen Denyer is picking up a salary of up to £200,000 in a forthcoming move to Chancery Lane’s senior staff.

“Perhaps that money would have been better spent organising an effective public campaign against the MoJ cuts,” said Parry.

In a statement accompanying his petition, Parry said that after losing the no-confidence motion, Chancery Lane’s leadership committed itself to consulting solicitors over tactics and to “negotiate effectively with the Ministry of Justice”.

Parry went on to slam Fluck and Hudson for being “unable or unwilling to accomplish either task with any degree of efficacy”. Instead, maintained Parry, “they chose an approach of collaboration with the Lord Chancellor, which was at odds with the stance of all other representative bodies and the will of the majority of criminal legal aid practitioners”.

Crime specialists are incensed with the society for, in their view, allowing Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to maintain that Chancery Lane tacitly supports his proposals.

“The Lord Chancellor has been careful within his response to the second consultation to credit and acknowledge the assistance of the Law Society has given to informing his intentions and in doing so coat his unacceptable reforms with a veneer of respectability,” said Parry in his statement.

He added: “It is implicit within Grayling’s response that the Law Society has agreed to much of what is proposed and have been lacklustre in opposing that which was not the subject of agreement.” He said the criminal branch of the solicitors profession “cannot afford to carry the continued ineptitude” of the Law Society.

Campaigners maintain the MoJ’s proposals will result in 1,100 law firms losing police station duty solicitor work. They say that many of the current 1,600 firms currently with criminal legal aid contracts will no longer be able to afford to act for clients, with some suggesting that the Government is aiming to reduce that number to about 300.

Despite Parry’s claim of significant grassroot support for his move, the two main representative bodies for criminal solicitors refused to back his petition. Leaders of both the Criminal Law Solicitors Association and the LCCSA described the SGM call as a “distraction”.

CLSA chairman Bill Waddington said: “In about a week’s time we are going to be hit with the first tranche of the Government’s regime, which means an 8.75 per cent cut. The SGM call is a distraction from the main fight, which is with the MoJ.”

The two groups have scheduled a joint meeting for Manchester on 19 March, where they will discuss further protest days, with LCCA president Nicola Hill forecasting that further action was likely.

The Law Society declined to comment on the SGM call.