Bar suspends legal aid protest escalation following £15 million government offer

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By Thomas Connelly on

Barristers will continue to refuse new publicly-funded cases

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has pressed pause on plans to ramp up its legal aid protest after apparently being offered £15 million by government ministers.

In a statement to its members, the CBA said there had been a “breakthrough” after it met with the Lord Chancellor, a legal aid minister and Ministry of Justice (MoJ) officials earlier this week. The deal reportedly includes extra cash for junior barristers and additional funding for fraud, drug and child sex cases. The offer, according to the CBA, equates to £15 million in extra investment.

CBA chair Angela Rafferty said:

“This has been very difficult to achieve and has been an almost non-stop effort on our part. We have been involved in extreme efforts to get to a position where we can consult the membership about a resolution.”

Rafferty added: “You will all have your own views and these will be critical. I have repeatedly stated that we will not accept any offer without proper and meaningful consultation.” More detailed information about the deal will be sent through to barristers via their heads of chambers.

In March, members of the CBA voted overwhelmingly in favour of refusing new publicly-funded cases from 1 April. This quasi-strike action was in response to the government’s changes to the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS), which it’s understood will result in further cuts to legal aid lawyers’ income. Around 100 chambers have since joined the walkout.

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Applying further pressure on the government, the CBA confirmed in May it would would be escalating the strike action to include a “no returns” policy on legally-aided crown court defence cases. This escalation in action has now been suspended until 12 June with “immediate effect”. Barristers will, though, continue to decline new publicly-funded cases, according to the statement.

Suggestions of a possible deal come just days after it emerged that unqualified law firm workers were having to step into the void left by absent barristers.

The Justice Committee, headed up by former criminal barrister Bob Neill MP, heard reports of support staff, including legal secretaries, effectively being “bullied” by judges into conducting hearings.

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