The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has denied telling court staff to name striking barristers, after the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) threatened legal action over claims that any such instruction would breach UK data protection laws.
An MoJ spokesperson said any claims the Justice Secretary or the MoJ told court staff to report the names of barristers who fail to appear in court are “categorically untrue.”
The MoJ told City A.M. it is “monitoring the number of disrupted cases… to assess the impact on the justice system.”
The comments come after the Law Society Gazette last week reported that all Crown Court clerks had been asked to hand over information on barrister’s missed hearings to attend strikes.
The Times later reported that an MoJ spokesperson, in seeking to explain the letter, had claimed it had “used confusing language and was potentially sent by mistake.”
The reports came after the Lord Chief Justice was accused of seeking to “intimidate” striking barristers, by telling judges to refer them to the regulator, as they continued their strike over legal aid fees this week.
Acting on a pro bono basis for the CBA, law firm Mishcon de Reya asked the MoJ to say whether any barristers’ names were in fact handed over, as the firm claimed that any such purported instruction would breach the UK’s data protection rules.
The firm called on the MoJ to say who approved the alleged instruction as it asked the ministry to explain whether any purported decision was in fact a “mistake”.
Mishcon also called on the UK’s information watchdog to investigate the allegations “at the earliest opportunity.”
CBA chair Jo Sidhu said: “Intimidatory tactics such as these are designed to cause distress and are a diversion from what must happen: a swift and fair settlement of our reasonable demands in relation to criminal defence advocacy fees under legal aid, in order to conclude this dispute in the long-term interests of the criminal justice system.”