Criminal Barristers vote to escalate strike action over legal aid fees
Criminal barristers today voted in favour of plans to cancel their bi-weekly court walkouts and run a continuous strike from 5 September onwards.
The Criminal Bar Association’s members overwhelmingly backed the decision to strike on an “indefinite basis” on Monday morning.
2273 members backed escalation of strikes by 79.5 per cent, with 11 per cent supporting a continuation of existing strikes, and nine per cent calling to end the action altogether.
The vote comes as barristers have staged eight weeks of court walkouts since first voting in favour of industrial action in June.
Criminal barristers are calling on the UK government to increase legal aid fees by 25 per cent, after turning down the government’s offer of a 15 per cent hike.
Responding to the decision, Justice Minister Sarah Dines branded it an: “irresponsible decision that will only see more victims face further delays and distress.
“The escalation of strike action is wholly unjustified considering we are increasing criminal barristers’ fees by 15 percent, which will see the typical barrister earn around £7,000 more a year.”
The calls come after an independent review of the legal aid system by Sir Christopher Bellamy QC said a 15 per cent hike would be the minimum increase needed to nurse the system back to health after “years of neglect”.
The vote threatens to aggravate the England and Wales’ court backlogs that have surged to record highs since the Covid-19 pandemic.
Earlier this month, the Law Society called for “sustained investment” in the criminal justice system, after HM Courts and Tribunal Services (HMCTS) figures showed the backlog had increased over the past three months.
There are now 58,540 cases waiting to be heard in the UK’s Crown Courts, according to the latest data from HMCTS.
In a tweet, Shadow Justice Secretary Steve Reed said: “The Conservatives have clogged up the courts with a backlog of 60k cases” as he claimed the “zombie government has abandoned victims of crime.”
Speaking to reporters in Walthamstow, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the government of doing “absolutely nothing” to resolve industrial disputes, following criticism of Dominic Raab over his failure to engage with the CBA.
“I quite understand, whether it’s barristers or others, why people and how people are struggling to make ends meet,” Starmer said.
“I want to see the Government step in and actually help resolve these issues, instead of that we’ve got a Government doing absolutely nothing,” the Labour leader and former barrister added.
However, when pressed by reporters as to whether Labour MPs would be allowed to join barristers’ picket lines, Starmer said: “My focus of attack is on the Government for not doing anything to resolve these issues”.