Criminal barristers walked out of courts yesterday in the first of a series of escalating strikes taking place nationally over pay and working conditions. As previously reported by The Justice Gap, a majority of 81.5% of barristers supported a series of escalating strikes. The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has demanded a pay increase of 25% to legal aid fees and hourly rates to mitigate the decline in real incomes by nearly 30% over the last two decades. In 2019/20, publicly funded criminal barristers typically earned around £13,000 according to the Bar Council for around a 70 hour week, less than minimum wage.
Striking barristers will not accept instruction for new cases and will continue to refuse ‘returns’, where advocates step in to replace the original barrister who can no longer attend. Practitioners face the threat of ‘regulatory action’ by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) if they deliberately fail to attend a hearing at which they are due. Directives issued last Wednesday by Lord Burnett, the most senior judge in England and Wales, warned that failures to attend court may amount to ‘professional misconduct’ and that non-attendance would be referred to the Senior Presiding Judge’s Office to consider whether to involve the BSB.
At a strike outside the Old Bailey today, Secretary for the CBA Lucie Wibberley described how ‘Lady Justice has no voice, today we lend her our voice.’ Alejandra Llorente, Chair of the Young Criminal Bar, stated that ‘with these fees we will keep bleeding junior barristers’ and that ‘we stand united for change and for the survival of the rule of law’. Picket lines were also at Crown Courts in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds and Manchester. Further strikes are expected tomorrow.
Dominic Raab MP, Justice Secretary, has encouraged barristers to accept the proposed pay rise of 15% in October 2022 ‘which would see a typical barrister earn around £7,000 more a year,’ a claim refuted by the CBA. Factoring in VAT and post-practice expenses, the proposed increase would amount to a pay rise of about 6.3%-7.2%. The Secret Barrister described Raab’s statement as ‘deliberately misleading the country, and hoping that the truth gets lost in the confusion.’