England

Barrister meeting may disrupt North West court cases

North West crown court cases are facing disruption as barristers plan to miss hearings to attend a meeting in protest against proposed legal aid changes.

Counsel on the Northern Circuit are discussing government proposals to cut the criminal legal aid bill by £220m.

The summit, taking place in central Manchester, is unlikely to disrupt the high profile Dale Cregan trial.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said it would be "disappointing" if lawyers chose to disrupt court schedules.

The MoJ also said the action would "would not help them and simply inconveniences the court, the public and their clients".

The judge in the Dale Cregan trial said he was not prepared to adjourn proceedings.

'Anger and disappointment'

Barristers intend to debate the proposed changes to the criminal justice system, which will pave the way for lawyers to compete for contracts among other reforms.

Critics say it will reduce the options available to defendants in choosing their own lawyer.

The Bar Council said there was "significant anger and disappointment at the criminal Bar" at the prospect of further cuts.

A spokesperson said: "We are picking through every detail of the consultation paper to understand the full consequences of what is being proposed, to provide the evidence to explain the true ramifications for the justice system."

Other proposed changes to legal aid involve criminal defendants being stopped from automatically accessing legal aid if they live in households with a disposable income of £37,500 or more.

A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said: "Listing cases is ultimately a matter for the individual court.

"Where they are listed, we expect counsel to honour their professional commitments so as not to have an adverse impact on victims, witnesses and the wider community."