Walk This Way: Criminal Barristers Plan National Walkout

June 14, 2019

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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-running 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. 99.3% agreed that the current rates of pay for legal work do not reflect the demands and responsibility required by the job. Barristers were also asked if they would be prepared to act in the form of a national strike to protest the current system, to which 94.8% responded positively.

Christina Blacklaws (the President of the Law Society) said that the Society has ‚Äúconsistently highlighted the underfunding in the criminal justice system. The review into criminal legal aid fees may be too little too late¬†‚Äď the criminal justice system is on the brink of collapse.‚ÄĚ

According to the CBA, some criminal barristers are paid¬†as little as ¬£46.50 for a day in court. Chris Henley QC (Chair of the CBA) said that ‚Äútoo often, fees for prosecuting produce¬†hourly rates worse that wages at McDonalds.‚ÄĚ More recently, Mr Henley stated that barristers‚Äô ‚Äúgoodwill and professionalism has been abused for far too long. There have been¬†no increases in fee levels for 20 years‚Ķ It is beyond ridiculous‚ÄĚ.

What's the big picture effect?

The payment rates for public prosecutors and defence barristers are¬†set by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)¬†and the¬†Ministry of Justice. The CPS is currently¬†reviewing¬†barrister fees in order to make them ‚Äúfair, affordable and sustainable.‚ÄĚ A government spokesperson said that they have ‚Äúrecently committed to a full reviewof legal aid payment schemes and are already¬†engaging with a wide range of legal professionals¬†on this.‚ÄĚ However, 8 out of 10 survey respondents said that¬†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,¬†the walkout could prevent trials from going ahead¬†as planned¬†and could potentially bring the entire criminal justice¬†system to a complete halt. Other disruptive action is also planned, including a new ‚Äėno returns‚Äô policy, under which barristers can¬†refuse to cover transferred casework from other barristers¬†who were unable to attend court on a certain date.

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

Watch this space.

 

Report written by Erin S

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