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Criminal barristers vote to take action if government does not increase legal aid

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‘Justice system on its knees’, say bar leaders

Criminal barristers in England and Wales have voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking action if the government does not commit to a “substantial increase” in legal aid.

Nearly 2,000 barristers responded to an urgent survey by the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), demanding reform by the end of March. The survey results, released today, show that 96.5% of respondents are in favour of taking action, including ‘no returns’, if the government does not “commit to a substantial increase in criminal legal aid”.

An independent review of the criminal legal aid budget, led by Sir Christopher Bellamy QC, proposed a cash injection of £135 million a year as a “minimum” first step to “nursing” the system back to health after “years of neglect”. He said there was “no scope for further delay”.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab has committed to responding to the review by the end of March, but barristers fear no action will be taken until at least the summer.

Some 91% agreed that the government’s current timetable is “unreasonable”, and 94% said ministers should publish their response to the review by 14 February and carry out the statutory consultation on changes being made by 31 March.

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“The views of the criminal bar could not be more clear,” said CBA chair Jo Sidhu QC and vice chair Kirsty Brimelow QC, in a joint statement. “Government must now take the urgent action necessary to resolve the funding crisis that has left the criminal justice system on its knees and driven out hundreds of our colleagues who could no longer sustain a career on pay that has declined in real terms over the last 25 years.”

They said that without the requisite undertakings from the government by 14 February, the CBA will move directly to a ballot for action.

Raab told Radio 4’s Today programme this morning: “The one thing that would hold back recovery in the courts system is if the Criminal Bar Association and criminal lawyers go on strike”.

He added: “I don’t think that would be supported across the wider sectors of the justice system and I certainly don’t think that will be supported by the public.”

The CBA hit back in a tweet saying: “Our members are the only thing that has kept the system on the rails for the last two years… 96% say enough. Inject funds now to save the future criminal justice system.”

Sir Christopher is due to give evidence on the review’s findings to the House of Commons’ Justice Committee this afternoon. Speaking ahead of this, Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce reinforced her support of the measures suggested in the review and said she is keen to work with government on the detail of what will be required to implement them.

“If this does not happen, we fear that our members will leave the market at ever faster rates, which will seriously compromise the government’s ability to clear the huge backlog in the criminal courts and ensure timely justice for victims, witnesses and defendants,” said Boyce.

The news follows an investigation carried out by Legal Cheek last year which found that law students are starting to veer off a career in criminal practice.

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10 Comments

Legal Officer Captain Lieutenant with a 2.ii

Yeah, yeah – members of the criminal bar ALWAYS have enough enough money though for designer dog breeds, holidays in fancy resorts and huge weddings.

Do one.

(20)(50)

Anonymous

I have met experienced criminal barristers who take home around 40k, who drive run down Fords, and who live in flats also occupied by the unemployed and those on minimum wage. Pull your head out.

(32)(4)

Anon

This is simply not the case.

You receive your case at 6pm,
You spend all night working through 6,543 pages of messages between a complainant and your client, as you’ve been told there’s relevant messages in there to assist you, the trial has to start tomorrow with you ready and prepared,
You show the prosecution the messages the following morning, and they agree that they shouldn’t proceed but want time to review the messages also.
It gets adjourned to a date you can’t do.

Oh… and you don’t get paid for doing all that work.

(8)(0)

Anonymous

When I was called to the bar the biggest talking point amongst juniors was if we were in Jourdelay’s or Wotton House.

(6)(5)

Paul (pronounced ‘pawl’)

Er it’s not quite like that now old boy!

(8)(0)

Trout

Market oversupply means there is no need to up rates. As a taxpayer I don’t want Rolls Royce system. A decent used Ford Focus would do.

(3)(15)

Scouser of Counsel

Here’s the reality. A lot of criminal barristers voted with their feet during the pandemic. Some retired. Others left criminal practice or the law altogether.

As such, now there is massive backlog of cases an too few counsel to deal with them.

Trials are being put off multiple times because the CPS and defence solicitors simply can’t get a barrister who is available.

Criminal law is increasingly complex and technology is creating masses and masses of data in even the simplest of cases, which someone has to read and process in case there is something “disclosable” in it.

It’s a simple matter of supply and demand.

(27)(2)

Anonymous

‘Criminal law is increasingly complex’

(1)(21)

Crimble

Yes. It is.

Have you ever got to grips with POCA?

(9)(0)

In the know

There are a few Chambers out there where even the very junior criminal members are making a very decent living, but they are the exception to the rule (and the Chambers themselves tend to keep quiet about it).

(3)(0)

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