WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
February 02 2023
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO

Barristers call off strike after months of disruption

Barristers call off strike after months of disruption

Old Bailey: the central criminal court of England and Wales

Barristers have voted to call off the industrial action and accept the government’s latest off on the increase in legal aid fees.

The government had renewed its initial offer of a 15% increase in legal aid, but has expanded this to cover many cases which are already in courts. The CBA had initially demanded a 25% increase in legal aid fees. 57% of those balloted voted to accept the offer, with a majority of 371 votes. The CBA said: ‘The Criminal Justice System remains chronically underfunded.’

The CBA, which represents the 2,400 specialist criminal barristers, voted for action in protest against low legal aid fees. Since April, barristers have refused to accept ‘returns’, a practice where they would, without pay, cover cases for their colleagues. In June, this was followed by intermittent strike action, followed by an all-out strike since 5 September. Action will end at 18:00 this evening.

Barristers are self-employed, earning their income from client fees, rather than salary. For criminal barristers, legal aid fees form the majority of these fees, leading it to be the lowest-paid section of the bar.  In their first three years, criminal barristers earn a median of little over £12,000, far below the minimum wage. This low pay results in a high ‘attrition rate’ for junior barristers with about 40% leaving the profession to seek higher fees elsewhere. An Independent Review of Legal Aid, commissioned in 2018 but published in 2021, recommended an increase to legal aid fees of ‘at least 15%… the minimum necessary’, stating that that there was ‘no scope for further delay’.

‘We are pleased that the criminal Bar has voted to accept the offer from the Ministry of Justice,’ commented Mark Fenhalls KC, chair of the Bar Council. ‘The offer was the culmination of many months of work and pressure, and unprecedented personal sacrifice by barristers. The disruption of the work of the criminal courts has caused huge stress to all those who work in the justice system, and to the public which depends upon this vital public service.’ Fenhalls said that the Bar remained ‘committed to continued constructive engagement with the Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary to rebuild confidence in the criminal justice system’. ‘We turn now to the work of the ‘Criminal Legal Aid Advisory Board’, and the evidence-based work which will be critical to ensuring further future investment, so that barristers and solicitors can continue practising criminal work in the years ahead,’ he added.