Move would be an escalation of alternating weeks of action adopted since late June
Criminal barristers in England and Wales will vote on whether to ramp up strike action in protest over government set fees for legal aid work, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has confirmed.
The CBA will ballot members over the coming weeks on whether to adopt “uninterrupted strike action”, an escalation of the current alternating weeks of action implemented since late June. The ballot closes on 21 August, and if the majority of members vote in favour of the move it will begin on 5 September.
The current programme of alternating weeks of strike action will continue in the interim, the CBA confirmed.
The representative body said “whether the majority view is to maintain the current level of action or, alternatively, to escalate it, any action will continue indefinitely unless and until there is a substantial positive movement from government that would warrant a review of the CBA’s position by way of a further ballot”.
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 has previously argued the increase in fees under the deal will “not be sufficient to retain enough criminal barristers to keep the wheels of justice turning”.
News of the possible escalation comes some four 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.
“The extensive disruption we have seen clearly demonstrates to the public and to Government that the continuing refusal of the Justice Secretary to negotiate a fair settlement with criminal barristers comes at a very heavy price”, the CBA said. “That price is measured by the thousands of pounds wasted each day that a courtroom sits idle or underused, and the shattered lives of complainants, defendants and witnesses who have already suffered unconscionable delays only to be told that their cases cannot proceed for want of a defence barrister.”
The Justice Secretary Dominic Raab previously described the action as “regrettable” and encouraged barristers to accept what he says equates to a “15% pay rise”.