02:45 GMT +319 August 2018
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    Barristers, dressed in traditional wigs, protesting against legal aid cuts in 2014

    Murder Accused Undefended as UK Lawyers Down Wigs and Go on Strike Over Cuts

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    A UK murder case has become the first to be affected by the barristers' strike over cuts to the criminal justice system. Lawyers are taking industrial action in a bid to get the government to change the Advocates' Graduated Fee Scheme.

    A Tanzanian immigrant accused of murdering his wife appeared in court in London without a defense barrister on Wednesday, April 4.

    A solicitor representing Kema Salum, 38, who allegedly stabbed to death Leyla Mtumwa, 36, on Friday, March 30, said they had tried to contact 30 different legal chambers in London without success.

    The Criminal Bar Association, supported by the Bar Council, is on strike because of its opposition to the Advocates' Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS), which came into force on April 1.

    Will Accused Get Defense Lawyer Before Trial?

    Judge Anuja Dhir QC set a date of September 24 for Salum's trial but it remains to be seen whether his solicitor, Seona White, will be able to find a barrister willing to take on the case.

    "I do not know how long the situation will last with counsel not taking on legal aided work. I hope it would be resolved quickly," Ms. White told the judge, sitting at the Old Bailey.

    In England and Wales there are two levels of lawyer — solicitors and barristers, with only the latter able to defend a client in the crown court.

    The Criminal Bar Association says prisons, courts, the police and the probation services are "underfunded and in chaos."

    It represents 4,000 barristers in the UK and they voted to go on strike earlier this year in protest at the lower fees available under the AGFS.

    'Criminal Justice System is Collapsing'

    "The criminal justice system is collapsing. The relentless cuts and refusal to recognise the importance of a principled, and not political, approach has left us all reeling," said the association's chair, Angela Rafferty QC.

    She said the Ministry of Justice's already "meagre and inadequate budget" faced a further £600 million in cuts in the next two years.

    "Members of the public are at risk of miscarriages of justice and the faith of the public in the jury system is being undermined by the chaos in courts," said Ms. Rafferty.

    She said that over the last 20 years barrister's fees from the state's legal aid scheme had been cut by nearly 40 percent.

    "We face a recruitment and retention crisis. Those from less privileged backgrounds must be able to see that a sustainable and viable career at the Criminal Bar is possible or they just won't come," said Ms. Rafferty.

    "Any action to disrupt the courts is unacceptable and we are taking all necessary steps to ensure legal representation is available for defendants in criminal cases," a Ministry of Justice spokesman told the Press Association.

    "We greatly value the work of criminal advocates and will continue to engage with the bar over their concerns regarding the AGFS scheme. Our reforms replace an archaic scheme under which barristers billed by pages of evidence. Under the new scheme, a murder case would result in a 16 percent uplift in fees for advocates," he added.

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    lawyers, bar, criminal, association, trial, murder, United Kingdom, England, London
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