Criminal barristers have shown ambivalence towards the government’s offer to apply the 15 per cent legal aid fee hike to the “vast majority” of current cases.
Barristers speaking to City A.M. said they welcomed the government’s positive movement, but raised concerns the pay hike alone may not go far enough.
Members of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) are set to vote on whether to accept the UK government’s offer in a ballot set to open on Tuesday 4th October and close the following Sunday 9th October.
The offer comes after the UK’s new justice secretary Brandon Lewis opened talks with the CBA earlier this month, after his predecessor, Dominic Raab, failed to engage with the barristers’ trade throughout the months-long dispute.
A High Court this week ruled that the UK government has until the last week of November to end the strike, before judges will be justified in releasing prisoners if trials continue to be delayed.
In announcing the offer, justice secretary Brandon Lewis said: “I greatly value the criminal bar and solicitors and the work they do every day in our Crown and Magistrates Courts.”
“My priority in these discussions has been to ensure that victims aren’t forced to wait longer to see justice done.”
“These are generous proposals, and I would strongly urge all members of the Criminal Bar Association to consider carefully, end their strike and work with me to deliver better outcomes for victims of crime.”
CBA chair Kirsty Brimelow KC said: “This offer represents substantial positive movement from government. As a result the offer will be put to a ballot.”
Specialist criminal barrister Michael Neofytou welcomed “the constructive talks between the Government and the CBA which are steps in the right direction for both defendants and victims of crime alike.”
“The sustainability of a first class functioning criminal justice system is at the forefront of my mind,” Neofytou said.
However, following announcement of the MoJ’s new offer, some striking barristers told City A.M. they are ready to continue striking to ensure other key demands, including calls for the launch of an effective pay review body, are met.
Criminal barrister Sean Summerfield, said: “Any deal must be future proofed so we are not in this position again, and this one is not.”
Others raised concerns that the levels of investment being offered by the UK’s Ministry of Justice (MoJ) are simply not enough.
Barristers had originally called for a 25 per cent increase to legal aid fees, to be applied to all current and future cases, including the c.60,000 still waiting to be heard in the UK’s Crown Courts.
Barristers also raised issues with the MoJ’s decision to publish an announcement outlining the offer, before barristers were told.
Criminal barrister Sebastian Cox said the MoJ’s “premature press release… feels very much like a cynical attempt to apply pressure at this crucial time.”
Another barrister speaking to City A.M. said they are inclined to accept the deal in order to return to carrying Crown Court work.