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Criminal barristers to vote on ‘uninterrupted strike action’

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Move would be an escalation of alternating weeks of action adopted since late June

CBA chair Jo Sidhu QC addresses crowds outside the Central Criminal Court during as strike in June – Credit @jonblackbsb

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”.

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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.

In June CBA members then agreed to stage a series of escalating walkouts from 27 June, with barristers encouraged to protest outside various court buildings across the country.

“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”.

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18 Comments

Legal Officer Lieutenant General Colonel Field Marshall

I’m fine with this.

Public screeching outside the High Court whilst holding Mulberry handbags, conducting online interviews from the latest iMac and endless time to Tweet about how they literally ‘can’t live’ on less than £30k a year will make the public think critically about whether they are really being told the truth.

Any criminal barristers willing to admit to using food banks or needed to choose between eating or paying their energy bills? Because that’s a reality for many in the UK.

(10)(39)

Sword of truth

Yes that’s all lovely, but, what do you think about the facts?
– in their first 3 years of practice, criminal barristers earn a median income of £12,200, significantly less than minimum wage
– there has been an average 28% decrease in real incomes over the last 20 years.
– the number of barristers specialising in criminal law has shrunk by 25% in the last 5 years, and the speed at which criminal barristers leave legally aided work has increased in the last year
– 280 trials in the last quarter of 2021 were adjourned due to shortages of barristers

(30)(1)

Denial is not a river in Egypt

So at long last the criminal bar has started shrinking to better reflect the massive reduction in serious crime and in heavy criminal hearings? Good show. Took long enough. Oversupply was always going to be an issue when the profession kept growing while demand was shrinking.

(4)(13)

Sword of truth

Ah yes. Oversupply has caused hundreds of trials to be cancelled through lack of prosecutor or defender. I’ve got it. Thanks.

(7)(0)

Munyhuny

The backlog is to do with the supply of Courts and Judges, not the supply of advocates. Using less senior defence counsel, of which their is massive oversupply, would assist any alleged shortfall at the more senior end. Those expecting representation funded by taxpayers can only expect qualified representation not experienced and expensive representation.

Anon

How many criminal trials are at the High Court? Oh yeah – none. Good point though.

(9)(3)

Crim Bazza

Actually there is and Court Room 38 is used as Nightingale Court for Inner London Crown Court.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Might interest you to know that the average RMT salary is £31,000; an cleaner who belongs to the RMT, working at the minimum wage, 8 hour days, 5 days a week, 46 week (who will, of course, have some holiday and probable pension provision) would earn £9.50 x 8 x 5 x 46 = £17, 480 pa. A junior barrister In their first 3 years of practice proper can expect now, at the criminal bar, something in the region of £12,200. They of course have no pension provision beyond the basic state pension, and, if they holiday, earn nothing. Oh yes, and by then a mortgage sized level of debt from student loans, course fees etc accrued over 5 years of study and training …

(6)(0)

An Crim Bazza

The trouble here is that if the government holds the line, criminal barristers will have to leave the profession out of necessity as they won’t have any money coming in at all and will have to find alternative remuneration.

There are some criminal barristers doing very very well (£100K+) but there are a very small minority of the total. Most are on a small fraction of that.

(14)(0)

Aswas

At some point they need to stop and think “will the public have sympathy with us turning down a 15% increase?”

(5)(15)

Come on now

At some point you need to stop and think that calling it a 15% increase is simply untrue, and that whilst we shouldn’t expect any better from Raab, this sort of whataboutery doesn’t help anyone.

(12)(1)

BTSFan

15% increase is what they turned down.

(1)(7)

Me

This problem will never be solved politically – “paying criminals” (quotation marks intentional) is not, and never will be, a vote winner.

I’m aware of many criminal barristers using the opportunity (with various degrees of enthusiasm) to diversify into related areas that are significantly better paid. One hopes that this will continue and that, once the Govt has lost a large quantity of their dependent suppliers (who have previously been “over a barrel”), market forces will intervene and criminal work will become a sustainable career option (rather than a hobby for those with independent means / familial support)

(4)(0)

Mark

All these votes whereas if they wanted to see meaningful change they should have just done a full strike from the outset.

It is somewhat ironic that these are people who defend the rights of others but when it comes to their own rights they collapse like a house of cards

(9)(1)

This is the truth

There will never be any shortage of applicants for pupillage at criminal sets. The wig, gown and professional label of counsel have a bizarrely magnetic pull for starry-eyed young people. That’s true of all areas of practice, but crim has a special appeal for the naive.

Have applications for the BPC – or whatever it’s called now – gone down markedly? Have pupillage applications decreased as well? I very much doubt it.

The truth about the criminal bar is that the lower rungs will always be fodder for chambers so that the sols are kept happy and seniors can continue to take the more lucrative cases. It’ll just be increasingly a matter of who can support themselves for long enough to avoid being replaced by the next hopeful, who made mum and dad ever so proud at call night.

(5)(0)

Blatherer

Always was absorbing and congenial when supported by a private income !

Times change, and a publicly funded defence body will overtake the criminal bar .

(2)(0)

Realist

>”Times change, and a publicly funded defence body will overtake the criminal bar.”

Is this really likely, though? I’m even more skeptical/cynical than you. There are plainly enough bleeding heart lefties who blindly persist in doing the BVC/BPTC despite the fact that governments of both parties consider criminals expendable. Unless criminal barristers wake up, recognise reality and *permanently* leave the profession in droves, why will any government compromise?

The public will not pay the level of taxes required to provide a Sweden-style welfare state, including legal aid. They also loathe criminals. End of story. This has been the case for decades, and as a profession – including on this site – we have had this conversation time and time again. For example, see the Law Society Gazette (LSG) story on 25 June 2019, “Young legal aid lawyer shares pain over redundancy”, including the comments: https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/practice/young-legal-aid-lawyer-shares-pain-over-redundancy/5070734.article. This isn’t new. The publicly-funded legal sector has been gutted over the last 20 years. For example, see this 2009 warning by Alex Deane of the reality of being a criminal barrister: https://www.lccsa.org.uk/crime-doesnt-pay.

We all know the hypothetical arguments about how any of us could be falsely accused, and Nigel Evans provided a superb example,* but it remains a fact that most decent people will go through life without being charged with a criminal offence. This creates two problems: (a) taxpayers’ self-interest isn’t triggered; and (b) most people loathe criminals and see them as a race apart/below. I’m *describing*, not *defending*, that view. That combination of self-interest and hatred of criminals means that legal aid is toxic.

Why re-hash the same complaints? Nothing will change. People will need to live or die within their means, *or* the electorate needs to change its mind radically about embracing far greater taxation and redistribution (as well as paying the bill for Covid). Which do you think is more likely? Particularly in the context that, (a) despite the Conservatives’ obvious failings, the Conservative Party eviscerated Labour at the last election, Peter Mandelson pithily noting, “The last 11 general elections read: lose, lose, lose, lose, Blair, Blair, Blair, lose, lose, lose, lose.”; and (b) even if Labour get in next time, they will inherit a broken, insolvent country, and will be even less inclined than the last time they were in power to throw any scrap to the criminal legal fraternity.

I don’t see a solution. As others have noted in comments to the Gazette article linked above, solicitors in this field are aging out. I infer that the inevitable outcome will be vastly increased numbers of LiPs, with barely-qualified paralegals representing those accused of more serious offences for which Article 6-compliant representation is obligatory.

_________________________________
* “The former Commons deputy speaker Nigel Evans, who spent his life savings defending himself against false accusations of rape and sexual abuse, has said he would now vote against the legal aid cuts brought in by the Conservative-led coalition.” The Guardian, 27 December 2018.

(3)(0)

Rumpypole

Nigel Evans’s story was horrific not for reasons to support this strike, but because it showed the horrible position these days of forcing middle class defendants to fund their own defence but then not be able to recover those costs when they are acquitted. I would rather that funds were used to ensure this did not happen in the future than anything more than the 15% currently on the table was offered to the strikers.

It is a “superb example” to use your words, but an example of why we should stop wasting a fortune on an overly expensive public defence system and instead provide on a publicly funded basis no more than the minimum that Article 6 requires. After all, every criminal practitioner will tell you most of their time IS spent trying to get criminals off.

(1)(1)

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