A legal aid strike affecting South Yorkshire courts has been extended - with major criminal trials being postponed as a result.
Local barristers have now joined solicitors in taking action in a row with the Ministry of Justice over cuts to fees for carrying out legal aid work.
It follows a fee cut for solicitors of 8.75 per cent at the start of July, which itself came after a previous 8.75 per cent cut in March 2014.
Hester Russell, a spokesman for the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, said a rape trial at Sheffield Crown Court scheduled to take place this week has been postponed, with further cases expected to be delayed in the next few days.
She said: “It is going to cause chaos in the Crown Court pretty quickly.”
The ongoing dispute has already seen defendants facing serious criminal allegations having to represent themselves, police cells being left ‘chock-a-block’ as cases back up and suspects have been released by police on bail without being interviewed about alleged crimes.
Members of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association in the county have been involved in the national dispute since early July, with local members of the Criminal Bar Association now joining the protest from this week.
Skeleton services of duty solicitors have been working in police custody and at magistrates’ courts as part of the dispute.
The extended action will now see barristers not representing defendants who turn up to Crown Court without legal representation and refusing to cover the work of colleagues who have diary clashes between different criminal cases.
Ms Russell said the impact of the action has already been seen in the Crown Court and is now expected to get worse, with people facing serious criminal charges having to represent themselves.
“People are making their own bail applications and plea and case management hearings can’t proceed meaningfully,” she said.
“Trials will be postponed and the barristers’ action is going to hit very, very quickly. There has already been one trial pulled for the list.”
She said members of the CLSA will meet again on Thursday to discuss whether to further extend the strike action.
The Government is making cuts as part of a plan to reduce the £1.7bn bill for legal aid, which supports people who can’t afford the cost of legal advice. The MoJ has said courts are ‘sitting as usual’ despite the dispute.