updated on 06 November 2023
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In Northern Ireland, there are “unprecedented and worsening” delays for receiving payment for legal aid in the criminal justice area. More than 200 barristers will take part in the strike, which will take place on 17 November 2023. The strike follows a ballot of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), which said that barristers will have to wait up to six months to receive payment. Despite planned strikes, the Department of Justice (DoJ) has made no plans to increase the budget.
A spokesperson for the Bar Council of Northern Ireland said: “This action is not being taken lightly. It is a regrettable but necessary measure to preserve the viability of legal aid as a vital public service that is relied upon by the most vulnerable citizens in our society.”
Previously, strikes in this area have been successful. In October, the Irish Government announced a 10% increase in legal fees following a strike, which The Irish Bar Council believes was an “important first step”.
A CBA spokesperson noted that wait time is indicative of wider issues in the legal aid sector: “These delays are exacerbating the difficulties caused by reductions in legal aid rates which, when adjusting for inflation, have plummeted by between 47-58% since 2005." Financial issues are particularly serious as Northern Irish barristers “are often facing intolerable cashflow pressures that their counterparts in other UK regions do not have to endure". The CBA spokesperson anticipates that delays could lead to criminal barristers withdrawing their services, negatively affecting the criminal legal aid justice sector.
Despite this, the DoJ believes that the planned strike is “premature” and risks “adversely impacting those who need legal representation in a time when the department cannot do anything to resolve the issue”. Although no plan has been suggested, the DoJ spokesperson has said that “we […] continue to have open dialogue with the Bar of Northern Ireland on a wide range of issues, including budgetary pressures”.