Lord Chancellor accepts recommendation of independent review — but bar chief warns move won’t stop colleagues quitting
The exodus of barristers from the legal profession “will continue if not accelerate”, the chair of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has warned, despite the government today announcing it had accepted an independent review’s recommendation to pump an extra £135 million a year into the criminal legal aid sector.
The Ministry of Justice said the additional cash will sit “alongside the most ambitious reform of criminal legal aid in decades that would ensure professionals are better paid for the work they actually carry out and help free up capacity in courts”.
This will include giving “more people the opportunity to forge a career in criminal law, whatever their background, by funding the training and accreditation of solicitors and solicitor advocates and removing barriers for members of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX)”.
The announcement comes just 24 hours after Legal Cheek reported that CBA members had voted overwhelmingly in favour of implementing a ‘no returns’ policy from 11 April, “unless government agrees to the measures necessary to safeguard the long-term sustainability of the criminal bar”.
The independent review, chaired by Sir Christopher Bellamy QC, found that an additional £135 million a year was “the minimum necessary as the first step in nursing the system of criminal legal aid back to health after years of neglect”.
Commenting on today’s announcement, the Lord Chancellor Dominic Raab said: “We owe our whole legal profession — solicitors, barristers, court staff and judiciary — a debt of gratitude for keeping the wheels of justice turning over the last two years.”
“That’s why we are accepting Sir Christopher Bellamy’s recommendation for an uplift in fees and a total of £135 million extra investment to ensure legal representation is there for those who most need it as we build back a stronger and fairer society after the pandemic.”
But responding this morning, chair of the CBA, Jo Sidhu QC, warned that his “members have made it absolutely clear that without a substantial increase in criminal legal aid fees, the alarming exodus of prosecutors and defenders from criminal work will continue if not accelerate”.
The 25 Bedford Row barrister added that “members have already made it clear that the suggested increase in fees by Sir Christopher Bellamy will not be sufficient to retain enough criminal barristers to keep the wheels of justice turning and that means victims will be failed”.
It remains unclear whether today’s announcement will be enough to halt criminal barristers pushing ahead with industrial action.
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