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Criminal barristers to strike as row over legal aid escalates

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Walkouts from next Monday

Barristers across England and Wales will down tools next week as the row between the criminal bar and the government over legal aid fees steps up a gear.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) confirmed this morning that 81.5% of the 2,055 members who voted had agreed to stage a series of escalating walkouts from next Monday. Barristers are also being encouraged to stage protests outside various court buildings across the country.

The news comes some two months after the criminal bar first implemented a ‘no returns’ policy — barristers agree not to accept cases that are returned by colleagues who have a diary clash — over their longstanding concerns with legal aid funding.

Although the government said it had accepted an independent review’s recommendation to thrown an extra £135 million a year into the criminal legal aid sector, the CBA argues the increase in fees under the deal will “not be sufficient to retain enough criminal barristers to keep the wheels of justice turning”.

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The industrial action will initially see criminal barristers down tools for two days from next Monday (27- 28 June), with further strikes planned for the following weeks. If no deal is reached, the CBA says the strike action will escalate with one additional day each week until week four, at which point the strike action would take place on alternating weeks.

In a statement, CBA chair Jo Sidhu QC and vice-president Kirsty Brimelow QC said:

“This extraordinary commitment to the democratic process reflects a recognition amongst criminal barristers at all levels of call and across all Circuits that what is at stake is the survival of a profession of specialist criminal advocates and of the criminal justice system which depends so critically upon their labour.”

The continued: “Without immediate action to halt the exodus of criminal barristers from our ranks, the record backlog that has crippled our courts will continue to inflict misery upon victims and defendants alike, and the public will be betrayed.”

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25 Comments

Ordinary Hard Working Taxpayer

Time to ditch using barristers, especially senior ones, and use a public defender systems to provide the minimum representation needed to comply with human rights obligations.

(7)(87)

Russell Hird

The public defender system would be just as expensive. They would be employees with holiday, sickness pay, maternity leave etc.. The real longterm problem is that the recruitment of young legal students into criminal law is very very low. The existing practitioners are getting older and are retiring.

(14)(1)

Dream On

Nah, bro, lots of posh kids want to say they are a barrister. Them applications they keep a-rolln’ in. Massive oversupply in a market where demand is rapidly shrinking.

(7)(14)

Anonymous

Hardly oversupply – 25% have left the profession in the last 5 years.
There are now not enough barristers to cover the work.
The problem is that people want to do the job but cannot cope with it at the rates payable so leave very quickly.

(9)(0)

Also an average hardworking taxpayer

As a junior criminal barrister, I too am an ordinary hardworking taxpayer. Unfortunately, much of my work is entirely unpaid and so it averages out at less than minimum wage. I would pay more in tax if I earned a decent living wage.

Or are you proposing that the public defender should work on a voluntary basis?

(26)(2)

sam

Well said, You are an ordinary hard working person. Good luck to you all coming together to fight an injustice i hope you Win

(9)(1)

Kurt Boomer

Do tell us one more time why an inflation-busting 15 per cent increase is not enough for criminal barristers…

(3)(7)

Sword of truth

You okay hun?

(1)(0)

Mark

We’ve heard this so many times before it is becoming a parody of itself. We all know it’s only a matter of time until they walk “back in”, most likely when the government through some meagre scraps that the spin doctors will say has real change but amounts to little more than lip service.

This is pretty much a non story. I would find it more interesting if any proposed action would let the system collapse. At least then we could “build back better”. Although how successful we would be in that endeavour is entirely a different question

(15)(1)

Mark

Edit: throw not through. Autocorrect on phones. It doesn’t make my comment any less valid

(3)(8)

Hackaforte

Sorry, chum. You’ve made a typo on the internet, and that’s a strict liability offence. All currently- and previously-held opinions are now invalid.

(41)(0)

Solicitor that wants to represent in court occasionally

Wonder how much of this problem is caused by our inane tradition of separating barristers and solicitors. No such nonsense in the States, and they don’t have to deal with such low pay working criminal cases.

(2)(34)

Billybob B. Hamburger III, QC

Objection! How well do you think that’s working for them?

(4)(0)

Anon

I would say that it makes no difference. As if you were in Court, you’d be paid the same rate.

The pay in the US is notoriously bad, and the workload massive, to the point that many do not get even remotely adequate representation

(4)(0)

Anonymous

A public defender system would be no cheaper. A whole lot of qualified lawyers would have to be recruited on substantial salaries and they would not work the hours or travel the distances that legal aid barristers do.

(31)(1)

anonymous

Quite. I studied in the US and have a few friends who are or were in the US public system who report the same depressing issues re: recruitment/retention (and political dynamics resulting in what seem obvious false economies). E.g.:

https://minnesotareformer.com/2022/03/10/public-defenders-vote-to-strike-justice-system-could-come-to-a-halt/

(12)(0)

Unite for God’s sake

Leadership of the CBA is just a professional stepping stone. Criminal barristers need real representation from within their own ranks!

(9)(3)

Anonymous

Is that not what Jo Sidhu and Kirsty Brimelow are then?

(5)(0)

Anonymous

What do we want? To maintain an outdated model that is more expensive than a public defender model.
How long are we going to strike for? For as long as I can hold this £1,100 Mulberry handbag. It is heavy you know, feel the quality.

(11)(30)

Overworked and underpaid- would you work for less than minimum wage?

On what basis do you say that the public defender system is cheaper?

As a self-employed barrister I don’t receive sick pay or anything more than state maternity/ paternity pay/ leave. I don’t get a workplace pension or paid annual leave. I pay for my own desk, chair, computing equipment, legal journals & clerking.

I can barely afford my ever-increasing rent and bills- let alone afford luxuries. Cherry-picking the few who can to support your argument just makes you appear foolish.

(19)(2)

Checking

So capping publicly funded rates at the cost of say a 5 year qualified barrister and using the funds spent on Rolls Royce representation on improving the income for barristers as a whole would be something you support presumably.

(1)(4)

de spare

Guys – I am not a lawyer but a victim of – ” The UK ” = The Legal System – which for practical purposes ceased to exist on – April Fools’ Day 2013 – I do appreciate the sacrifices made by – some – very few – lawyers – but -> by reducing law to – cash and coercion – your professions’ own behaviour has led to – nobody wanting to fund this ?

(0)(12)

Eek

“Why is nobody wanting to fund this?” Really? Taxpayers are facing the highest tax burden of modern times and you ask why we don’t want to pay more tax?

(6)(1)

David Lyons

The following facts have previously driven members of the CBA to vote almost unanimously for action

• We have already suffered an average decrease in our real earnings of 28% since 2006.
• During a single year of the pandemic, our average earnings from legal aid collapsed by 23%.
• In that same year, the Ministry of Justice saved £240m in unspent AGFS monies which has never been reinvested to help us.
• 83% of us were forced into personal debt or to use up our savings with no Government support to mitigate that massive loss of income.
• Juniors in their first three years of practice earn a median income of only £12,200, which is below minimum wage.
• A high inflation rate (now likely to reach 11%) means that a 15% rise in fees will be more than extinguished by the time we receive it.
• We have lost a quarter of our specialist criminal barristers over the last 5 years with 300 walking away last year alone.
• Nearly 40% of our most junior criminal barristers departed in one year.
• The alarming attrition of criminal advocates resulted in 567 trials last year being postponed for want of an available prosecution or defence barrister.

(14)(2)

Ron

And yet you didn’t mention the huge reduction in significant criminal hearings over the last two decades as a result of the drop in serious crime and other reforms?

And I really loved “A high inflation rate (now likely to reach 11%) means that a 15% rise in fees will be more than extinguished by the time we receive it.” Heart bleeds.

(2)(7)

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