It is 2030 and there have been no downsides from paying barristers peanuts.

Criminal barristers in England and Wales have ended their strike over abject pay, provoking dismay among junior barristers who wanted to reject the government's deal.

The barristers went on indefinite strike six weeks ago in protest at the UK government's "insufficient" support for legal aid. They revealed how chronic underfunding meant they were earning as little as £139 a case, and in some instances less than £20,000 a year.


Criminal barristers initially rejected the government's proposal to raise the legal aid budget by 15%. Jo Sidhu KC, then the chair of the CBA, told RollOnFriday that rocketing inflation would wipe out the increase before it ever reached the barristers' threadbare pockets.

Calling for a 25% rise, Sidhu said criminal barristers had "already suffered an average decrease in our real earnings of 28%" over the past 20 years.

An impasse was reached when the Ministry of Justice under Dominic Raab refused to budge, and rejected calls to apply any fee increase to the backlog of 60,000 cases jamming up the courts. Raab "expressly slammed the door shut on any negotiation with the CBA", said Sidhu.

But after new PM Liz Truss binned Raab, incoming Justice Secretary Brandon Lewis reopened talks and agreed that a 15% rise could apply to the backlog. He also offered additional payments for court preparation work which criminal barristers said they were undertaking for unsustainably low fees.

The revised offer prompted 57% of the 2,605 CBA members who voted in the CBA's ballot to take the deal, with 43% tuning it down.

Mark Fenhalls KC, Chair of the Bar Council, said he was pleased the deal passed and said the MoJ's offer was "the culmination of many months of work and pressure, and unprecedented personal sacrifice by barristers". 

Lewis said he was "glad that barristers have agreed to return to work" and characterised the deal as the two sides "coming together and restarting what I hope to be a constructive relationship".

But some junior criminal barristers who voted 'no' called the truce a disaster. Kate Riekstine, a barrister at Rose Court Chambers, said "I feel so broken. And let down. And hurt". 

"I honestly think we signed the death warrant for the criminal bar", Riekstone told the Guardian. Describing how she was now considering leaving law to become a social worker, because “at least you get sick pay and annual leave”, Riekstone said all she had wanted was for criminal practice to "be survivable and I feel like we’ve lost that now".

Matthew Ryder KC pointed to a suspected generational split, with older barristers putting up with a 15% rise as they had banked most of their earnings, paid off their mortgage and were on their way to retirement, while younger barristers could not make the figures add up to justify spending the rest of their careers in criminal law.

Ryder said, "I’ve heard many say younger barristers voted to stay on strike to secure decent legal aid into the future, while older practitioners voted to take what they could now".

He predicted, "Years from now, when we look back at this moment, history won’t be kind to those older briefs".

Tip Off ROF


The Good Life 14 October 22 08:00

Good old old bazzas, pulling up the ladder after making the final payment to Nationwide.

Roy 14 October 22 09:54

I'm sympathetic to criminal barristers' pay increasing, but junior barristers like Zayd Ahmed must surely have gone into the profession knowing that the pay is abysmal, right? 

Unfortunately it has basically become like a vocation where you accept being poor, or you have family money or a high earning spouse.

Sad 14 October 22 11:27

Horrible situation. 

As a youngster you watch TV, love a court drama, dream of protecting people in court, then you feel your ability and educational slog is best spent helping those who need it most.

You feel enthused, committed and like you can really make a difference to some people's lives, especially the disadvantaged.

Then you do it. Your dream quickly dies. You realise no one cares about those who cannot afford to pay.

We say we believe in the rule of law, yet, we do not properly fund the most vulnerable. How can anyone be innocent until proven guilty if the court system doesn't give them to tools to prove they aren't guilty.

It's not just the profession this reflects badly on, or the legal system, its society. 

Anonymous 14 October 22 12:30

Riekstone showing off precisely the kind of flowery emotive hyperbole that brings in all of the big bucks right there...


... Oh no, wait, that's wrong, I meant "that marks you out as entirely unsuited for the big bucks and doomed to a life of penury like all of the other supernumerary arts grads". Forgive the typo.

Rogers 14 October 22 13:08

@Roy 14 October 22 09:54, perhaps Zayd Ahmed might have gone to the bar not expecting to bank GBP200,000 in his first year of qualification, before bonuses, assisting banks in leveraged finance deals, but equally is it not a reasonable expectation for criminal barristers to earn a living wage for a role that actually benefits human beings, and the wider society, directly, in defending their innocence before a criminal court in a democratic society? 

Becoming a criminal barrister has only "...become like a vocation where you accept being poor, or you have family money or a high earning spouse" because successive governments have decided that paying criminal barristers a living wage won't win the vote of Mrs. Middlegrass at 11 Molesworth Lane, Snodswand.  It's not a predisposed condition of the bar that barristers should not be paid enough to live, it's a deliberate decision of populist politicians.  Roll on the Hunger Games.  

Anonymous 14 October 22 13:56

@Rogers - what?!

"Successive Governments" don't decide what does and doesn't win votes (they'd be in power forever). Electorates do.

It isn't "populists" making this decision about the value to members of the public of paying to defend those who the police and CPS think there is sufficient evidence to prosecute for crime. It's the members of the public being asked to pay the bill for it all.

They don't want to pay more than they already do.

They are not being mind-controlled by 'Populists' while inwardly desperate to give more of their monthly pay to barristers.


Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to the Guardian to simultaneously moan that we don't put enough rapists in jail and that we should stump up millions more for government paid lawyers to defend suspected rapists. Such is the coherency of my Progressive worldview.

Rogers rides again 14 October 22 17:30

@Anonymous 14 October 22 13:56. 

Here's hoping you're never faced with the prospect of going before a criminal court on some charge you're not guilty of, or if you do, that you're either able to pay for a silk for the duration of the trial and any appeals, or that your Legal Aid supported lawyer is one of these mythical types that is also independently wealthy with family money or a wealthy spouse, and that you're not lumbered with a sleep deprived, perpetually stressed and malnourished junior who's eeking out £17,000 by defending the alleged rapists you're referring to.  

Anonymous 15 October 22 00:04

That won't happen to me because I will just pay for a decent lawyer. Having a half-decent job and all.

Also, will refrain from raping anyone. So no actual danger of being in court for it.

Boston calling 16 October 22 02:05

I am flabbergasted at how derisory the pay is for criminal barristers in the UK. I do what's called Bar Advocate work for the indigent in Boston and we are paid by the state at the rate of $65 per hour. The only restriction is 10 hours per day and about $100,000 per year in earned income (and that can be waived of you have a few trials). Work in the higher level court for more serious crimes pays over $100 per hour. I only work about 20 hours per week and I make about $60,000 per year. The rest of the time I do civil litigation. They should have stayed on strike, The system would completely break down without them so they have leverage. 

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