Barristers vote to continue strike action indefinitely
There was an upswing in particpation in the latest ballot
Following another extensive period of consultation with ordinary members and leaders of the Criminal Bar, 2773 barristers have voted to escalate their current legal aid action from 5 September.
This was the third ballot held by the Criminal Bar Association and participation was higher than either of the previous two ballots; given the fact the ballot took place during the usually quiet period of August while many members are away, this may indicate resolve is strengthening within the profession.
Just under ten per cent of members (9.11 per cent) voted for cessation of all action; twelve per cent (11.35 per cent) voted for continuation of current action, and an overwhelming majority of 79.54 per cent voted for escalation of action.
The weeks of action, combined with no new instructions (which includes no returns), will come into effect on an indefinite basis from Monday 5 September.
Members of the Criminal Bar Association are currently committed to a programme of weeks of action and no new instructions (which includes no returns); the current programme of action will continue in the interim period.
The next scheduled week of action will commence on Tuesday 30 August. As such, the last working day for criminal barristers participating in weeks of action pursuant to the ballot vote will be Friday 26 August.
The Law Society has warned that although solicitors are not striking, they are ‘voting with their feet’ by leaving the criminal defence profession.
“Solicitors share barristers’ concerns about the collapsing criminal justice system,” said Law Society vice president, Lubna Shuja.
“Solicitors are experiencing the same squeeze as barristers but many are limited in the action they can take by their professional obligations to their clients and their legal aid contracts”.
She said that whilst barristers vote to escalate their direct action, “solicitors continue to vote with their feet by leaving the profession altogether”. Shuja added that many see no future in criminal defence work, following the Ministry of Justice’s failure to fully implement Lord Bellamy QC’s recommended minimum fee increases.
“The number of solicitors and firms doing criminal legal aid work continues to fall at a time when the criminal defence profession is needed more than ever to tackle the huge backlog of Crown Court cases.
“Meanwhile duty lawyer schemes in places like Barnstaple and Skegness are collapsing, meaning that people who are arrested may be unable to get advice in the police station that they are legally entitled to have. This would have serious adverse consequences for the fairness of any subsequent trial if they are charged”, the vice president said.
It has long been the case that victims and defendants are having to wait too long for justice. Shuja said some members had reported cases in some parts of the country now being listed for hearing in 2024.
“There is an urgent need for further investment in all parts of the criminal justice system to prevent its collapse and ensure justice for all.
“Our members are not striking but leaving altogether and action is needed now before it’s too late to turn the tide of solicitors and firms leaving criminal defence work,” she concluded.