Barristers heading back to work after voting to end strike and accept pay deal

Posted on October 10, 2022Comments Off on Barristers heading back to work after voting to end strike and accept pay deal

riminal barristers in England and Wales will head back to work after voting to accept a pay offer from the Government and end long-running strike action.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) ballot saw 57% of members who took part vote in favour of the deal, meaning defence barristers will accept new instructions in cases from 6pm on Monday and be back in court from Tuesday.

Justice Secretary Brandon Lewis said he is “glad that barristers have now agreed to return to work” and described the development as a “breakthrough”.

But the CBA warned the criminal justice system still “sits on a cliff edge” and threatened to walk out again if the Government does not stick to its pledge.

Barristers have been “shabbily treated” by government but the CBA is now “hoping for a new relationship”, chairwoman Kirsty Brimelow KC said.

She said: “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.

“Goodwill of criminal barristers is exhausted. The long-term reform does depend on continuing, constructive engagement with Government. Otherwise, our members remain ready to act again.”

Barristers with the CBA have been taking part in a continuous walkout after a row with ministers and officials over fees and conditions intensified.

Prior to that, they were striking on alternate weeks and refused to carry out certain types of work.

The ballot was held after Mr Lewis proposed further reforms to Government-set fees for legal aid advocacy work – to provide representation in criminal cases for defendants who cannot afford a lawyer – during talks.

The offer represents “further investment of £54 million in the criminal bar and solicitors”, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said.

Some 2,605 criminal barristers took part in the ballot, which asked if they accepted the Government’s offer and voted to suspend action, with 1,488 (56.74%) voting yes and 1,117 (43.26%) voting no, the CBA said.

Mr Lewis said: “My priority in these first few weeks as Lord Chancellor has been to end CBA strike action and reduce delays for victims, and I’m glad that barristers have now agreed to return to work.

“This breakthrough is a result of coming together and restarting what I hope to be a constructive relationship as we work to drive down the backlog and ensure victims see justice done sooner.”

There had been anger that a planned 15% fee rise barristers were due to receive from the end of September, meaning they will earn £7,000 more per year, would only apply to new cases and not those already sitting in a backlog waiting to be dealt with by the courts.

But now the MoJ says the fee increase will apply to the “vast majority of cases currently in the crown court” as well as provide a pay rise for solicitors, with further measures due to be announced in the coming weeks.

This is despite the department previously saying it had “repeatedly explained” to the CBA that backdating pay would require a “fundamental change” in how fees are paid, adding: “That reform would cost a disproportionate amount of taxpayers’ money and would take longer to implement, meaning barristers would have to wait longer for payment.”

It is understood the move requires changes to the digital system used by the Legal Aid Agency to make payments and, while officials are confident there is a solution available, they fear it may be difficult and expensive.

The pay offer came after High Court judges ruled that delays to criminal trials affected by the ongoing strike may not be a good enough reason to keep defendants in custody on remand if the dispute continued beyond the end of November.

Victims “will not see justice delivered” without enough lawyers for cases, Ms Brimelow said, adding: “It remains the Government’s responsibility to stop the criminal 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.”

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