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Barristers Go On Strike!

Criminal Law in crisis as Legal Aid has no significant increase since the 1990’s

Motoring offences or prosecutions

Criminal Barristers have voted to go on strike from Monday 27th June.

The Government ordered an independent review of the future of the Criminal Legal Aid system which recommended increasing Legal Aid rates by at least 15%. The barristers would say that is on the back of no significant increase since the 1990’s, so it amounts to real terms cuts in pay rates over many years.

Most Criminal barristers are self-employed and rely on Legal Aid payments which fund most of the legal defence fees in Criminal matters. While there are some very high earning senior barristers and QC’s, who work on high profile cases, the barrister’s profession would say that in many lower-level cases, junior barristers are struggling to earn the sort of hourly rates that would be paid to a plumber.

Because of the decreasing real term pay rates many barristers and solicitors who specialise in Criminal work are leaving that side of the profession to do better paying legal work in other areas. It has also proven difficult to recruit younger people into the Criminal defence field to replace barristers and solicitors who are retiring or leaving. This was one of the reasons why the Government commissioned the report because it was having an impact on the functioning of the criminal courts – which are in the main the Magistrates and Crown courts.

The barristers are in dispute with the Government about the speed of implementation of the recommended Legal Aid rate rises. The barristers say it should be immediate and in full, while the Government are adopting a longer timetable. That is at the heart of the dispute and has led to the barristers voting to strike.

It’s unclear what a strike may look like and its impact because the Lord Chief Justice has said that barristers should not refuse to attend court on cases they have already accepted. It remains to be seen what will happen if they do that. But the barristers can refuse to accept new cases and the proposal by them is that there will be escalating action over the summer. That means that there will almost certainly be delays in trials and the operating of the Criminal Justice system. Members of the public will feel that, because if someone is being prosecuted for something, which includes motoring offences as well as more serious matters, it could take longer to get to trial and resolve the matter.

We may also see the unusual sight of barristers on the picket line outside courts. Who knows whether they will be wearing their wigs and gowns on the picket line but it’s probable that we will see such lines outside courts in the next few weeks?

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