Walk This Way: Criminal Barristers Plan National Walkout

June 14, 2019

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Criminal barristers in England and Wales have voted to stage a one-day walkout on 1 July after a long-runningĀ dispute over legal aid and prosecution fees.

What does this mean?

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA), which represents thousands of lawyers practising criminal law in England and Wales, surveyed over 2000 barristers. According to the CBA, 80% of barristers actively practising at the criminal bar turned out to vote.Ā 99.3%Ā agreed that the current rates of pay for legal workĀ do not reflect the demands and responsibility requiredĀ by the job. Barristers were also asked if they would beĀ prepared to act in the form of a national strikeĀ to protest the current system, to which 94.8% responded positively.

Christina Blacklaws (the President of the Law Society) said that the Society has ā€œconsistently highlighted the underfunding in the criminal justice system. The review into criminal legal aid fees may be too little too lateĀ ā€“ the criminal justice system is on the brink of collapse.ā€

According to the CBA, some criminal barristers are paidĀ as little as Ā£46.50 for a day in court. Chris Henley QC (Chair of the CBA) said that ā€œtoo often, fees for prosecuting produceĀ hourly rates worse that wages at McDonalds.ā€ More recently, Mr Henley stated that barristersā€™ ā€œgoodwill and professionalism has been abused for far too long. There have beenĀ no increases in fee levels for 20 yearsā€¦ It is beyond ridiculousā€.

What's the big picture effect?

The payment rates for public prosecutors and defence barristers areĀ set by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)Ā and theĀ Ministry of Justice. The CPS is currentlyĀ reviewingĀ barrister fees in order to make them ā€œfair, affordable and sustainable.ā€ A government spokesperson said that they have ā€œrecently committed to a full reviewof legal aid payment schemes and are alreadyĀ engaging with a wide range of legal professionalsĀ on this.ā€ However, 8 out of 10 survey respondents said thatĀ they did not feel valued by the CPS. The vital relationship between barristers and the CPS is evidently at a breaking point.

With a significant proportion of all CPS cases being conducted by independent barristers,Ā the walkout could prevent trials from going aheadĀ as plannedĀ and could potentially bring the entire criminal justiceĀ system to a complete halt. Other disruptive action is also planned, including a new ā€˜no returnsā€™ policy, under which barristers canĀ refuse to cover transferred casework from other barristersĀ who were unable to attend court on a certain date.

In the latest turn in this story,Ā the government has made a fee offerĀ in an attempt to put an end to the planned disruption. In the new deal, standard courtroom appearance fees areĀ expected to rise from Ā£46.50 to Ā£90. However, before a decision is made, CBA membersĀ will have to voteĀ to see whether or not they agree with the deal.

Watch this space.

Ā 

Report written by Erin S

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