Top criminal chambers pledge support for ‘no returns’ as barrister action begins

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Move comes in response to ‘unacceptably low’ legal aid fees

A growing list of chambers have publicly declared that their criminal barristers will not accept returns from today over longstanding concerns with legal aid funding.

So far 25 sets and 13 individual barristers have come out in support of ‘no returns’, a live document administered by Twitter account Idle Court shows. The chambers include Exchange Chambers, Garden Court Chambers, 25 Bedford Row, among others.

Under no returns, barristers agree not to accept cases that are returned by colleagues who have a diary clash.

The action results from a recent ballot in which 94% of Criminal Bar Association (CBA) members voted to no longer accept return work, though they will continue to attend court and accept cases of their own.

This came in response to the government’s decision to invest an extra £135 million a year into the criminal legal aid system, the minimum recommended by Sir Christopher Bellamy QC in his review.

The CBA said in a statement:

“The action will be maintained until government agrees to a fair settlement of the criminal bar’s longstanding concerns about unacceptably low legal aid fees that are driving hundreds of our barristers out of criminal practice.”

The number of specialist criminal barristers has shrunk by a quarter in the last five years, the CBA said, meaning that there are now “insufficient” prosecutors and defenders to reduce the backlog of nearly 60,000 cases in the Crown Court.

“Without immediate action by government to substantially increase legal aid fees, more barristers will be forced out of criminal work and the backlog will grow longer, leaving victims and defendants waiting years for their cases to be heard.”

The government recently announced a 15% increase in fees, but only for new cases from October.

The CBA said that given the backlog, barristers could be waiting until 2024 and beyond to reap the benefit of any fee increases.

The 2022 Legal Cheek Chambers Most List

On Friday, the Bar Council released research showing that the number of barristers practising full-time in criminal law has dropped by more than 10% in 2020-21 compared to a year earlier — from 2,670 to 2,400.

The Law Society, meanwhile, has said that it understands why criminal barristers are taking a stand.

Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: “The Criminal Bar Association and the Law Society are, for different reasons, both of the view that the Ministry of Justice’s proposals are woefully inadequate to address the crisis in the criminal defence professions.”

“Criminal law is no longer an attractive career option for young solicitors or barristers,” Boyce continued. “Many of those who are currently practising in criminal law will be considering how long they are able to continue doing so. We understand why barristers have chosen to take this action.”

Last year we carried out an investigation which found that law students are starting to veer off a career in criminal practice.

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How many pupillage applications comprised of talented, eager individuals ready to work do most criminal sets get in a year?



I reckon in the region of 350 for a Legal 500 set, of which around 10 – 15 get through to the final round for what is now one or two places. The calibre is outstanding, incredible in fact. It’s not by any mean the easy option.



Are there ‘top’ criminal sets?



The problem is that there’s no money left in the government tin, and the Criminal Justice System comes way behind in the list of public priorities.

Criminal barristers (who are wrongly portrayed as fat-cat lawyers) don’t get the same public affection as doctors, nurses and police officers.



Quite right too. We don’t need to fund an outdated Rolls Royce system. Pare it down to the minimum and let the Luddites moan.



The government does not need to effectively fund chambers in fancy zone 1 Georgian town houses with immaculately pointed walls, painted doors, and polished brass door knobs, with all the accompanying costs such as a bloated clerks room, reams of printing and lavish websites and marketing.

It will pain self-employed barristers, who understandably like the lifestyle, to hear this. But it must be said.

And yes, I appreciate there are many who struggle. But they knew before they entered that the criminal bar was an effective pyramid scheme with those at the top exploiting new entrants. They too should direct their fire at the system.

There are other options for the system, such as moving court representation in house to law firms where it might be more cost effective and efficient, setting up a public defender service, or the like.

Next up, the government should finish off the PI bar.



Exactly. Vested interests moaning. Public defenders – yes. NHS negligence claims dealt by administrative processes rather than civil litigation – yes. Stopping people claiming damages based on future private health care costs when NHS care available – yes. Ending legal advice privilege – yes. So many ways to streamline and improve the system. The moaners cried when civil legal aid was all but ended too.



Because they envy and truly don’t deserve the same affection as doctors, nurses and police officers.

How many doctors, nurses and police officers can claim at least an extra £50,000 a year for working on public inquiries like Grenfell? How many more huge public inquiries will there be in the future for COVID, NHS scandals or terrorism that criminal barristers will also directly benefit from?

And yes – all from the needless upkeep of expensive Georgian London townhouses that no one outside of law can live in, deliberately to cut them off from the hoi polloi they now desperately want to identify with.

They are fat cats.


Fanner of the Flames

How about no-fault car insurance to end the litigation there?


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