Criminal barristers are today set to walk out of courts across England and Wales, after last week voting to strike amid a long-running dispute with the government over legal aid fees.
Barristers, who are expected to picket outside of London’s Old Bailey court today, are calling on the government to increase legal aid fees by 25 per cent or risk a further exodus of barristers from the country’s criminal justice system.
The strike action comes after the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, told judges on Wednesday to report striking barristers to the Bar Standards Board (BSB) if they fail to appear in court, as he suggested strikers could face “professional misconduct” proceedings.
The top judge’s guidance sparked backlash from senior barristers, as QCs accused the Lord Chief Justice of seeking to “intimidate” barristers by becoming a “partisan enforcer” for the government.
In response to the Lord Chief Justice’s guidance, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) also sought to reassure strikers they would be covered for any costs, as it said it is working with a specialist team of lawyers to advise anyone facing referrals or disciplinary charges.
The strike action comes after the government offered to hike legal aid fees by 15 per cent in March, after an independent review said the 15 per cent hike would be the “minimum” increase necessary to nurse the legal aid system back to health after “years of neglect”.
The CBA have said the 25 per cent increase is needed to “reverse the exodus” of barristers from the UK’s criminal justice system, in arguing the 15 per cent fee hike will largely be swallowed by inflation.
For its part, the government has said the 15 per cent hike would see the “typical” criminal barrister earn an extra £7,000 a year.
The CBA point to figures showing barristers in the first three years of their careers earn median incomes of just £12,200 a year, as they argue a 28 per cent drop in barristers’ real earnings since 2006 has led to hundreds of criminal lawyers leaving the profession, in a shift that has worsened the crown court backlog.