Legal aid reform: Criminal barristers vote overwhelmingly in favour of direct action

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No returns from 11 April ❌

Criminal barristers across England and Wales have voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking action in protest over criminal legal aid fees.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) confirmed on Sunday evening that 94.34% of the 1,908 members who voted had agreed to a ‘no returns’ policy from 11 April. The move means barristers will not accept cases that are returned by colleagues who have a diary clash.

The decision follows a survey of nearly 2,000 CBA members in January that found 96.5% were in favour of taking action if the government did not “commit to a substantial increase in criminal legal aid”.

The action centres around an independent review of criminal legal aid which found that an additional £135 million a year was required to help nurse the crumbling system back to health after “years of neglect”. The review’s chair, Sir Christopher Bellamy QC, stressed there was “no scope for further delay”.

The government has promised to respond to the review by the end of March, but barristers fear no action will be taken until at least the summer and possibly beyond.

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

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In a statement the CBA said: “94.34% of the 1,908 members who cast their votes have made it absolutely clear that they are not willing to be led by a government timetable that brings no prospect of a settlement until the end of September. They have already waited too long. Through our labour and our goodwill, we have sustained a chronically underfunded criminal justice system on behalf of the public while suffering substantial reductions in our real incomes and exhausted by the hugely increased demands placed upon us, often for little or no reward.”

It continued:

“We have already lost too many of our colleagues who can no longer afford to maintain their commitment to criminal work and who have left our ranks out of desperation and despair. Every day we are losing more. We have shrunk to a mere 2,400 full time criminal barristers. The future viability and diversity of the criminal bar is already imperilled. It is a recognition of the scale of this crisis that has driven so many of you to vote in favour of action.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We are disappointed in a vote for this course of action just days before we announce our plans to create a stable and sustainable legal aid sector for the future. We encourage CBA members to read our proposals in full and respond to the consultation, rather than being drawn into action that will harm victims of crime.”

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I prefer it were cheaper

As a top rate taxpayer, I would like a cheaper, leaner publicly funded criminal defence system. More a second or third hand Ford system than a Rolls Royce one. Public defender offices seem better than using the hordes of wig wearers.



…until such time as you need the help of a lawyer, at which point you will want a Ferrari Italia and will be outraged if you cannot get it



I’d want the same as the prosecution.


I prefer it were cheaper

I’d be paying for it. Big difference.


Your preferences are questionable

So if someone can’t afford the quality of service that you can it’s just tough shit? Justice system only works if it applies to everyone, otherwise law of the jungle kicks in.



The taxpayer pays for the prosecution. They should pay for the defence. Otherwise the system isn’t fair.



Yes, you’d be paying more for your case to get stuck in the backlog of all the other cases…


Nationalise everything

You always know that when someone begins a sentence with, “as a taxpayer…” they’re about to make themselves sound like a proper c*nt.


Joe Bloggs

We have a Public Defender Service which was modelled on the US system. It’s a tiny organisation, and has remained tiny since it’s creation. Why? Because it is a much more expensive model than giving contracts to firms to do the work. The regime can’t be any leaner. Fees having increased since the 1990s.


Queuing For The Food Bank?

I’ve never seen a criminal barrister without at least one of an expensive pedigree dog, second home, designer handbag or huge wedding.

Funny that.



Well the CBA say we can either have one of those, or a diary.

But I have to disagree with your implication that this reflects the true state of renumeration at the Bar.

No doubt the DOJ will bring out the old canards about ‘legal aid fat cats’ or how this hurts victims of crime. They even describe this as a strike when it is nothing of the sort. It’s just refusing to cover for the DOJ’s shortfalls and incompetence without being compensated for that.

Many criminal barristers earn a pittance; often less than minimum wage (sources in the linked pdf)


Adam S

And yet they still do the job. Massive oversupply in a market especially given the huge drop in significant hearings in criminal proceedings over the last decade. Shows why there is no need to pay more.


You're Talking Nonsense

Your level of misinformation is tragic.

There are large numbers of trials having to be adjourned because they simply can’t find barristers to prosecute/defend them. Instructing solicitors have to phone round 20-30 chambers to find someone. There is no oversupply; there is no slack in the system; there is no justification for the huge disparity in rates between criminal barristers and their civil counterparts.

But hey, you keep getting your information from the Daily Heil if it makes you feel better. I bet you’d want someone well remunerated if you were in the dock.



I think we once worked out on LC that the team of criminal barristers currently working on the Grenfell Inquiry were making at least £50k each a year, on top of all their court work.

How many people living in Grenfell earned 50k a year???

It’s embarrassing how the criminal bar constantly claims poverty.

Polite Disagreement

How is it relevant to compare what experienced and highly trained professionals make compared to the people who were involved in the subject of the inquiry? By that logic (to use the word in its loosest possible sense), you’d be suggesting that a barrister involved in an inquiry into Russian oligarchs was making far too little money because the subject of the inquiry was a billionaire.

The thing that is “embarrassing” in this debate is that people who do not have the faintest bloody clue what they are talking about are nonetheless very quick to trot out the “fat cat barrister line” purely because they can’t see themselves ever needing the service. All you’re doing is exposing how bitter you are.


Polite Disagreement, you are far more likely to actually NEED a nurse or a carer at some point in your life as you reach old age than a criminal barrister.

But I don’t see any barristers arguing that £33k a year (or less) for a nurse’s salary is far too little for the literal life-saving work nurses and carers provide.

These people have university degrees too. They are professionally trained in the administration of medicines and hospital equipment.

But of course, barristers consider themselves far more important, special and worthy than nurses and carers, even when these people work regular night shifts and mop up vomit. It’s nothing but snobbery and narcissism.

They hear other professionals complain about their salaries, then co-opt these arguments to attract attention and sympathy they don’t deserve. The working conditions of a nurse or carer will always be far worse than for a criminal barrister.


I assume you live in Millionaires Row, Kensington ! Or have you returned to the Village that’s been looking for you ?



I can tell you I have, I can also tell you that not all barristers are middle age and upper class, especially not in criminal law. I for one can hardly make ends meet and it is only getting harder, I do not own a house, I do not own a car, I do not have a dog. I do however have a child and over 50k in debt in student loans, I am just starting my career but I am doing it because I love it, because if it was for money it wouldn’t be worth it!


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