A murder case at the Old Bailey has become the first to be affected by the barristers’ strike over cuts to the criminal justice system.
Tanzanian Kema Salum, 38, appeared for his first Crown Court hearing over the death of his wife Leyla Mtumwa, 36.
The mother-of-one had been repeatedly stabbed in the neck and chest at the home they shared in Kirkstall Avenue, Haringey, last Friday.
But no defence barrister was present to represent him in court where Judge Anuja Dhir QC set a timetable for his case and considered bail.
His solicitor, Seona White, of BSB Solicitors, said she had contacted more than 20 Chambers to find a barrister, but none were prepared to take on the case.
She added: “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.”
Judge Dhir set a plea hearing for June 20 and a provisional trial for September 24 and remanded the defendant in custody.
She told him that despite not having a barrister to speak for him in court, his solicitor had invited her to “make sure that you are not disadvantaged by that because it is not your fault and it’s not hers either”.
However, until a barrister is found to take on his case, legal advice and preparation of his case could be affected.
The Tanzanian national was helped in court by a Swahili-speaking interpreter.
Court proceedings across the country are expected to face more disruption as some lawyers refuse to take on new cases and stage walkouts.
Leading legal chambers Doughty Street and 25 Bedford Row are among those set to take part in the industrial action.
The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has warned that prisons, courts, the police and probation services are “underfunded and in chaos”.
It advised its 4,000 members to take action after 90% voted in favour, with a turnout of around 55%.
The strike action is a reaction to the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS), which came into force on April 1.
A statement from the Ministry of Justice said: “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.
“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% uplift in fees for advocates.”