Criminal barristers are considering taking strike action, after claiming government plans to inject £35m per year into the criminal justice system would not be enough to “ensure the long-term viability of the Criminal Bar.”
Last week, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) asked its 2,600 members to vote on the prospect of launching a strike, after calling for a “significant injection of new funding to make up the substantial decline in real incomes.”
The poll, which closes today, will determine whether the CBA pushes forwards with the option of taking strike action.
The vote comes after the Bellamy report, an independent review of the legal aid system, said the government should inject an extra £135m a year into legal aid, in order to nurse the system “back to health after years of neglect.”
In a statement sent out to CBA members, Jo Sidhu QC, chair of the CBA, said: “For a profession that has experienced no increase in real incomes for a quarter of a century, and for whom the burden of work has risen exponentially over that same period and with much of it unpaid, the prospect of such a modest increase in overall funding translates into an insultingly small improvement in annual incomes for the individual women and men who have bailed out the criminal justice system year after year.”
The CBA’s poll comes amid a growing discrepancy between the money earned by criminal barristers, and the salaries paid out to barristers working for the criminal prosecution service (CPS).
In an email to City AM, the CBA said that whilst all criminal barristers are self-employed, average starting salaries sit at around £12,000 per year.
Meanwhile, salaries for junior barristers with around five years’ experience average at just £25,000- 30,000. As noted in the Bellamy report, the CPS is able to pay up to £10,000- 15,000 more than the sums paid out to legal aid lawyers.
Sidhu added that the government’s plans to increase funding for legal aid will not do anything to “discourage hundreds more of our colleagues from leaving legal aid work because they too will lose all hope of securing a viable and fulfilling career as criminal advocates doing their best to serve the public.”
According to figures from the CBA, 22% of junior barristers have left criminal practice over the past five years, with many choosing to go in-house, or simply opting to leave the legal profession altogether. At the same time, 46% of QCs have left criminal practice over the past five years.