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Barristers vote for walk outs as Bar Council issues warning on court closures

A ballot by the Criminal Bar Association means barristers will participate in walk outs over pay an workload.

Barristers have voted in favour of ‘days of action’ amid concerns over legal aid funding and workload.

Given a range of options, 81.5 percent of voters opted for days of action, while 43.5 percent voted for days of action combined with no returns (not picking up others’ work) and not accepting new instructions. It will begin next Monday.

From 27 June, the number of walk out days will increase week on week 18 July when barristers will be out for an entire week. The following week, the action will be suspended, and from then on a pattern of alternating weeks will continue with no end date.

Chair of the Criminal Bar Association, Jo Sidhu, explained Juniors in their first three years are currently taking home a median income of £12,000 and that barristers have seen an average decrease of 28 per cent in real earnings since 2006.

The MoJ has already agreed to invest £135m extra in criminal legal aid annually, which includes a 15 percent increase in fees exclusive of VAT.

Jo Sidhu said, QC: “We have made repeated efforts to persuade Government to at least honour the basic recommendations of the CLAR (Criminal Legal Aid Review) to increase AGFS (Advocates' Graduated Fee Scheme) fees by a minimum of 15% without delay rather than force us to wait until October, and then only to attach any increase to new representation orders thereafter so that we see no benefit to our incomes until late 2023 and beyond.

“Despite our reasonable requests […] Government continues to insist that they will not shorten their timetable.”  

Justice Minister James Cartlidge said: “This is a disappointing decision by the Criminal Bar Association, considering less than 50% of CBA members voted in support of the option likely to cause the most disruption.

“The 15% pay increase we consulted on would mean a typical criminal barrister earning around £7,000 extra per year and only last week I confirmed we are moving as quickly as possible to introduce fee rises by the end of September.

“We encourage the Criminal Bar Association to work with us, rather than escalate to unnecessary strike action.”

In April, barristers began to take action over legal aid funding concerns by refusing no return work (picking up colleagues’ work when cases run over).

It comes as Chairman of the Bar Council, Mark Fenhalls QC, also today warned that the public will lose confidence in the law in the face of court closures.

More than two in five courts have closed since 2010, meaning the majority of Parliamentary constituencies do not have an active court.

Mark Fenhalls QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said: “If people cannot access justice quickly and efficiently, the public will lose confidence that the law will help them resolve family, property, and financial disputes.”

“We urgently need a political commitment to fund capacity across the justice system.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman responded: “All closed sites were shut because they were either underused, due maintenance work or too close to another.

“Our £1.3bn investment to modernise courts means access to justice is no longer solely reliant on going to a court building, with thousands now using services or going to hearings online.

“The Crown Court backlog has fallen and we are giving criminal barristers a £7,000 pay rise as we restore the swift access to justice people deserve.”

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