Some criminal barristers are opting to leave the practice entirely
The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) in the UK has opened ballot on whether to turn the current bi-weekly strike actions into an uninterrupted and indefinite act from September 05 onwards.
It was a move the UK government called “disappointing” as it remains firm in its refusal to enter negotiations regarding the CBA’s demand to increase the legal aid fees by 25% instead of the former’s proposed 15%.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) reasoned that the requested 25% would cost a “disproportionate amount” of taxpayer money that otherwise could have gone to court repairs or victim support.
“This is a disappointing decision by the Criminal Bar Association, considering criminal barristers would receive a 15% fee increase, equating to an average pay rise of £7,000 per year,” an MoJ spokesperson told The Law Society Gazette. “We have fast-tracked legislation so lawyers will start to receive the extra money from the end of September.”
The MoJ spokesperson claimed that the continued strike action would only “delay justice for victims” since the government promises to hike up pay before the end of the year, starting with Crown court guilty pleas. However, the CBA argues that it will take years before its members will reap the benefits of such increases.
Last June, the CBA said 80% of its members backed the initial 14-day walkout, which had eventually escalated to seven weeks of strike and counting as of today. The barristers did not accept any new or returned cases throughout this period.
According to the CBA, junior barristers earn below minimum wage with a median annual income of £12,220. Earnings from legal aid fell by 23% in a year, forcing over 80% of its members to go into personal debt with government support.
Now, personal debt among criminal barristers is made worse as some resort to using up savings and taking on debts to support themselves while striking.
Criminal barrister Sean Summerfield told City A.M. the juniors are willing to “see this through for as long as it takes,” while other barristers are going as far as “moving away from crime entirely” – a fact corroborated by the CBA in a meeting held last Tuesday.
“To illustrate what is at stake, in a poll of our under 7 years’ call juniors at the national Zoom meeting, a clear majority signalled that they are already preparing to leave the criminal bar unless our demands are substantially met by government,” the CBA said.
To sustain the ongoing strike, the CBA is working closely with the Bar Benevolent Association to set up a hardship fund that can easily be accessed by barristers in need.