Criminal barristers vote in favour of full-blown strike as row over legal aid fees escalates

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By Thomas Connelly on


From 5 September

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

Criminal barristers across England and Wales have voted in favour of uninterrupted strike action in protest over government set fees for legal aid work.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) confirmed this morning that nearly 80% of the 2,055 members who voted had agreed down tools on an indefinite basis from Monday 5th September. This is major escalation of the current programme alternating weeks of strike action implemented since late June. This will continue in the interim.

Reacting to the development, Vakas Hussain, a barrister at 187 Fleet Street Chambers, wrote: This is not a decision the profession has taken lightly. We have been forced into this by an incompetent and unrepentant government which has no respect for the rule of law or the justice system. So proud of all my colleagues who are standing tall to defend something so precious.”

Meanwhile, Lola-Rose Avery, a barrister at 3PB Barristers, commented: “Huge and brave decision for the Criminal Bar to down tools entirely. Beyond sad that it’s necessary. Solidarity as always.”

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News of the 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.

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”.

Commenting on the move, justice minister Sarah Dines said: “This is an irresponsible decision that will only see more victims face further delays and distress. The escalation of strike action is wholly unjustified considering we are increasing criminal barristers’ fees by 15 percent, which will see the typical barrister earn around £7,000 more a year.”

Mark Fenhalls QC, chair of the Bar Council, said:

“It is a matter of deep regret to all of us that barristers have been driven as a last resort to take this further action. Members of the criminal Bar have been feeling mistreated, undervalued and overwhelmed for a decade or more.”

He added: “Politicians cannot be in any doubt as to the dire state of the criminal justice system. Ministers must look again immediately at ways to fund the backlog cases and bring a resolution to this difficult situation.”

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