"The CBA wants YOU to strike"
Criminal barristers are set to strike next week due to a row with the government over legal aid funding.
The Criminal Bar Association (CBA), which represents prosecution and defendant barristers, said that 81.5% of its members had voted for industrial action.
As well as refusing instructions on new cases, criminal barristers will strike for two days next week, followed by three days the following week, and escalate the walkout to the full working week of 18-22 July. The strike will then be suspended for a week, before action resumes on 1 August.
Striking barristers are set to attend picket lines outside the Old Bailey and five other crown courts across the country.
The CBA is protesting against the government's plans to raise the legal aid budget by 15%, which the association deems to be insufficient.
The government's proposal follows an independent review by Sir Christopher Bellamy, who recommended a 15% fee rise as the “minimum necessary" to "sustain the criminal Bar going forward”. However, the CBA is demanding a hike of 25%.
Jo Sidhu QC, chair of the CBA, told RollOnFriday that "an inflation rate running at around 10% means that a 15% rise in fees will be more than extinguished by the time we receive it." He claimed that criminal barristers had "already suffered an average decrease in our real earnings of 28%" over the last two decades, when taking into consideration inflation.
"A lethal cocktail of sliding pay and worsening conditions,” has led to an "alarming attrition of criminal advocates," said the CBA chair, with a loss of a "quarter of specialist criminal barristers over the last 5 years." Hundreds of trials were postponed last year "for want of an available prosecution or defence barrister," added Sidhu. There is estimated to be a backlog of over 58,000 cases across crown courts.
Mark Fenhalls QC, chair of the Bar Council, told RollOnFriday: “Each barrister who has voted is understandably angry and upset. Members of the criminal Bar have been feeling mistreated, undervalued and overwhelmed for a decade or more."
"The criminal justice system has been politicised by figures wishing to make political capital but unwilling to match the rhetoric with action and funding," said Fenhalls. “All of this has been heightened by the stresses and strains of the pandemic, and we have been seeing flight from criminal practice – barristers abandoning criminal work to do other kinds of work that are better paid and less stressful."
A Ministry of Justice spokesman told RollOnFriday: "This is a disappointing decision by the Criminal Bar Association". He added: "We encourage them to work with us, rather than escalate to unnecessary strike action, which will only harm victims and the wider priorities."
In April, the CBA took industrial action by refusing to carry out "returns work" (cases taken on by barristers which have been 'returned' from another barrister for reasons such as a diary clash).
It's not just criminal barristers railing against the government - workers across many industries are complaining about salary rises failing to match inflation hitting a 40-year high. Rail workers walked out this week, while unions representing teachers, NHS workers and civil servants are balloting their members on industrial action over "inadequate" pay rises. Now is the summer of our discontent.