Barrister performs guitar solo to raise awareness for criminal bar strikes

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By William Holmes on

15

🎵 Save legal aid, magna carta was made to protect people like you 🎵

A criminal barrister has gone public with a song he wrote about the ongoing strikes over legal aid.

Church Court Chambers’ Michael Fullerton, who does not use Twitter or other social media platforms, took to YouTube to voice his frustration at the state of pay at the criminal bar.

Following an Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid’s recommendation that pay for legal aid work should increase 15%, the government committed an extra £135 million a year into the criminal legal aid sector and later in 2022 announced that it would increase the fees by 15%.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA), however, wants a 25% pay rise from the government, arguing that with inflation at around 10% this “means that a 15% rise in fees will be more than extinguished by the time we receive it.” Former Justice Secretary Dominic Raab refused to negotiate with the CBA and criminal barristers started an indefinite, uninterrupted strike on 5 September.

The barrister puts his frustration down to the fact that “the statutory instrument providing for a 15% uplift on new instructions from 1st October 2022 effectively means another 2-4 years before those trial fees will become effective”.

Fullerton told Legal Cheek: “In the meantime, £91 for a standard appearance and £125 for a PCMH hearing are abysmal fees for the hours of preparation required and then to attend Court. There are various other areas including paperwork and s.28 hearings which are not paid adequately or at all”, stressing that this is “particularly relevant for the younger practitioners who are financially struggling to make a living on such low fees and to note the government has been cutting legal aid fees in real terms for years.”

Striking barristers, who normally don their wigs and gowns when attending picket lines, have been criticised by some for struggling to sway the public in their favour. He added: “I wrote the song as it is a different medium from the printed word and, having attended the assembly outside the Supreme Court and then heard the CBA submissions to the Joint Select Committee at the Palace of Westminster on 6th September 2022, hoped it would highlight certain issues facing the criminal bar to the wider public.”

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Fullerton’s song (embedded top) takes aim at “government ineptitude” with the barrister, who started out his legal career in Australia, repeating “save legal aid, magna carta was made to protect people like you” as the chorus.

The lyrics refer to short-lived strikes in 2014 following the then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s plans to cut legal aid that was resolved when the CBA agreed with the Ministry of Justice to suspend cuts until after the next general election. Legal Cheek is told that this was the first time Fullerton has used song to share his views on legal aid cuts with the barrister being understood to have sung on stage outside of parliament in protest of Grayling’s plans.

There is also little love lost over Raab’s departure. Fullerton can be heard singing: “Dominic Raab, was he the worst we ever had? We say: ‘shame on you’. Yes we say: ‘shame on you’”. Besides these specifics, the song voclaises broad criticism towards the government’s attitude towards legal aid reforms:

“Come the day you’re in court, innocent or not, or maybe down on your luck,
you’ll find legal aid is no priority for a government that doesn’t give a… [emphatic pause] care at all.”

Raab’s replacement Brandon Lewis had a “constructive” introductory meeting last week with the chairs of the Bar Council and the CBA.

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