Criminal barristers to vote on £15 million legal aid offer

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By Thomas Connelly on

Protest escalation suspended last week following ‘breakthrough’ talks with government

Criminal barristers are gearing up to vote on a £15 million legal aid offer put forward by government.

In a message to its members, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said it will meet with heads of chambers tomorrow to discuss the offer, which reportedly includes extra cash for junior barristers and additional funding for fraud, drug and child sex cases.

The CBA’s statement said:

“We would like to make it clear to you that this offer is the culmination of a significant amount of work that took place over some time. It is right you should know that the initial, unsurprising and uncompromising position of the government was that no new money would be made available. This was maintained for many weeks. This offer is not the ‘first’ on either side. We have presented you with the government’s bottom line.”

In March, CBA members voted in favour of refusing new publicly-funded cases from 1 April. This 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. Just over 100 chambers have since joined the quasi-strike action, according to a document circulating on social media.

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Turning the screw on the government, the CBA confirmed in May it would be escalating the strike action to include a “no returns” policy on legally-aided crown court defence cases. However, this proposed action has since been suspended until 12 June following the government’s £15 million offer. Barristers continue to decline new publicly-funded cases.

Legal aid aside, the CBA says it also raised “wider considerations” during its sit-down with government representatives. This included the proposed “cancellation” or “long term postponement” of the highly controversial flexible operating hours (FOH) pilot. The project could see courts across the country open earlier and close later. The CBA says that the Ministry of Justice is currently considering “next steps for that project and is gathering more evidence on the effects of wider changes in the system”.

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