Courts in the UK have faced disruptions due to a strike by criminal barristers. Members of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) have faced problems with the government regarding legal aid. Currently, they are not accepting new cases. Hundreds of barristers, some wearing court wigs and black suits, have joined the protest in different cities. Lawyers gathered at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Liverpool Crown Court, Nottingham Crown Court, and Birmingham Crown Court. They support the ongoing strike action for government set fees for legal aid advocacy work.
Barristers on Strike
As Braintree & Witham Times reported, barristers in England and Wales have begun a strike action for pay and conditions. The Independent says that courts have faced disruptions across the country as the strike action brought many cases to a halt. Members of the CBA have walked out over a dispute with the government concerning legal aid fees. According to Bloomberg, criminal cases face further disruption as the three-day walkout of defence barristers went ahead on Monday. According to the BBC, the CBA says there has been a 28% cut in legal aid fees over the past decade. This has forced barristers out of the sector, with their numbers down a quarter as compared to five years ago.
Dispute over Fees
According to the BBC, the CBA says long-term legal aid cuts are the reason for the strike. Bloomberg has referred to the complaint by Jennifer Devans-Tamakloe’s who joined the picket line after qualifying as a criminal barrister last month. She says: “Barristers don’t get paid a lot of money, certainly not in criminal legal aid funded cases.” The justice minister urged the CBA to accept the pay rise to “stop victims having to wait longer for justice”.
The Ministry of Justice has said criminal barristers will receive a 15% fee rise from the end of September. It means that they will earn £7,000 more per year. But there has been anger that the proposed pay rise will not be made effective immediately. The rise will only apply to new cases, not those already sitting in the backlog. The BBC says that the CBA is asking for a 25% rise in pay for legal aid work. Members of the CBA have rejected the government’s 15% pay offer. They say it will not kick in immediately or apply to existing cases.
Strikes to Continue
As Bloomberg says, criminal courts in the UK face disruptions as criminal barristers strike for a second week. Strikes continue at criminal courts around the country as criminal barristers say that the government is “refusing” to negotiate. According to the BBC, the CBA’s four weeks of action escalated into a three-day walk-out this week. It will increase by one day a week to a five-day strike from 18 July. From August, barristers will strike on alternate weeks.
The BBC says that ministers blame the strikes for worsening a backlog of 58,000 cases. According to Bloomberg, the CBA issued a warning about victims of crime and defendants. The CBA says ministers should take steps to “reinject” funds into a “barely functioning” justice system. Otherwise, victims of crime and defendants seeking to prove their innocence will not see their day in court. Spoking to LBC News, CBA Chairman Jo Sidhu QC said that unless the government reinjects funds into the system, we’re going to see a lot more people leaving. He added “Those victims of crime and defendants who want to prove their innocence won’t see their day inside the court.” According to The Guardian, each day of action will affect more than 1,000 cases.
Five Reasons for the Strike by Criminal Barristers
As reported by Big Issue, barristers say they are on strike for the following reasons:
- Criminal barristers are quitting at alarming rates due to issues with pay.
- Over 250 courts have closed since 2010.
- Cuts have slashed the number of staff.
- Too few junior lawyers are joining, or staying, in criminal law.
- Victims have to wait years for justice.
According to Bloomberg, the CBA chairman says they have had continuing discussions with the Ministry of Justice. However, the ministers are refusing to sit around the table and negotiate their way through the problem.
The CBA says some junior criminal barristers currently make less than the hourly minimum wage. The CBA chairman adds that the criminal justice system has not been working well for a number of years. The reason is that the government has simply mismanaged the system and underfunded it considerably (BBC). Criminal barristers voted to go on strike following a row over legal aid funding. This is the latest sector to show signs of unrest about the state of their profession. Criminal barristers are not the only dissatisfied people. There have been reports of a similar level of dissatisfaction among teaching and NHS staff. The staff of the railway industry also participated in a three-day strike this week (Wales Online). Dissatisfaction in different professions shows that Johnson’s government is unable to manage the economic situation in the country satisfactorily.