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Suzanne Townley

News Editor, Solicitors Journal

Criminal barristers end strike after government U-turn on pay

Criminal barristers end strike after government U-turn on pay


Despite suspension of the strike, concerns over the justice system remain

Members of the Criminal Bar have voted to end strikes over pay as of 17:00hrs this evening (10 October 2022) following a proposal made by the government.

The Law Society said the government had offered an extra £30m “in sweeteners” on top of the 15 per cent increase in criminal legal aid fees recommended in the Lord Bellamy-led independent review.

A total of 2605 members voted in a Criminal Bar Association (CBA) ballot on the government’s offer. Members were asked: “Do you accept the offer from the MOJ as set out in the accompanying proposal document and therefore vote to suspend the action?”

·       1488 (57.12 per cent) voted ‘yes’

·       1117 (42.88 per cent) voted ‘no’.

In a CBA statement announcing the ballot result, there was no sense of victory. In its statement, the CBA said: “The criminal justice system sits on the cliff edge”.

“As a democratic organisation, we take our mandate from you.

“Whatever the final result, there will always be disappointment and even bitterness. The underlying causes that compelled us to commence action, as a unified group, have not gone away.

“The Criminal Justice System remains chronically underfunded”.

The CBA warned that members would not hesitate to act again and said it remained the government’s responsibility to stop the justice system “tipping over the cliff edge”.

“Barristers should not have to fight so hard again to bring this responsibility back home to government. Barristers should not again have to endure working all hours to ensure that cases are brought to Courts whilst government pares criminal legal aid fees to the bone.

“The offer from the Government is an overdue start. Its acceptance by barristers is on the basis that it is implemented. Otherwise, the CBA will ballot again to lift the suspension of action,” said the CBA.

“Goodwill of criminal barristers is exhausted. The long-term reform does depend on continuing, constructive engagement with Government”.

Law Society president, I. Stephanie Boyce also had a warning for the government: “The justice minister may think he has got one problem off his table but there are bigger problems coming his way as this dispute continues. This is another example of a government U-turn making a bad situation worse”.

Solicitors’ fees will increase by just 9 per cent despite the Lord Bellamy’s review stating solicitors are in a worse situation and that a bare minimum 15 per cent increase is required to make their businesses viable.

“Solicitors are the backbone of the crisis-hit criminal justice system. They will see that the government has found a magic money tree to stop the disruptive action of barristers – money that was not available to pay solicitors fairly,” said Boyce.

“Our members will see that disruptive action achieves results that hard evidence and constructive engagement do not.”

“You cannot fix the problems plaguing the criminal justice system unless you fund all parts of it effectively. The money must be found to give solicitors parity on the 15% fee increase”.

She said that duty solicitor schemes would collapse without more immediate support for firms, as they have done already in Barnstaple, Skegness and Ceredigion, among others.

“If this money can be found to bring a strike to an end, surely it can be found to give a fair deal to solicitors, who have kept the wheels of justice turning despite 25 years without a pay rise”, said Boyce..

“If the gap isn’t bridged by the time the government publishes their full response to the independent review in November, we have made it clear we will advise our members that there is no viable future in criminal legal aid work.

“This mounting permanent exodus of solicitors from the criminal defence profession won’t cause temporary problems for the criminal justice system, it will bring it to its knees altogether.

“Unless the government sees sense on its short-sighted approach to criminal justice, victims and defendants will continue to suffer, the backlog will continue to build and trust in the system will erode further,” concluded Boyce.

CILEX (Chartered Institute of Legal Executives) chair, Professor Chris Bones, also called for arrangements to be confirmed for solicitors. “CILEX welcomes the resolution that has been reached by the Criminal Bar Association and the Ministry of Justice so that the wheels of justice can resume turning to provide justice for victims. 

“We now look forward to the government confirming arrangements for lawyers in law firms such that the Bellamy Report is implemented in full. 

“We also call for a meaningful role for the proposed Advisory Board on Criminal Legal Aid, to maintain confidence in the system, and expect to see the assessment of the real-life impact of the reforms as the first item on its agenda. This should allow any necessary recalibration to be based on data and evidence, to which we look forward”.