updated on 18 October 2022
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After five months of strikes, criminal barristers in England and Wales voted to end strike action on Monday 10 October, accepting a government pay rise of 15% on legal aid fees.
The offer comes from the justice secretary Brandon Lewis, following continuous talks with the Criminal Bar Association (CBA). The rise will apply to “the vast majority of cases currently in the crown court”, £3 million of funding for case preparation and £4 million for pre-recorded cross-examinations of vulnerable victims and witnesses, The Guardian reports.
The CBA first began striking in April this year to highlight the poor rates of pay criminal barristers are expected to work under, with many barristers fearing the impact this would have on the future of the criminal justice system.
The Law Society Gazette reports that junior barristers in their first three years can expect to make just £12,000 a year, although CBA reports indicate this number may be even lower. According to the CBA, criminal barrister earnings have fallen by 28% since 2006, with the number of criminal barristers also falling by a quarter in the past five years.
Garden Court North’s Mira Hammad said: “People should expect better of the system. I’m tired of covering up for a system that could do differently and should do differently.”
This sentiment is echoed by a number of junior barristers, who were not part of the 2605 lawyers who voted to end the strike. In fact, in a Zoom meeting of young criminal barristers shortly before the vote, 84% said they’d be voting to reject the government’s offer.
Kate Riekstina, who was appointed to the Bar in 2016, said: “I honestly think we signed the death warrant for the criminal Bar. The only thing that I really genuinely wanted was for people from any background, any race, sex, religious beliefs, anyone who was capable and good to be able to come into this profession and at least it be survivable and I feel like we’ve lost that now.”
While the 15% pay rise was welcomed by more senior barristers, Hamish McCallum, a barrister with two years’ experience highlighted the divide between ‘seniors and juniors’.
Speaking to The Guardian, McCallum said: “If you are, like I am, typically doing hearings, which are of a fixed fee, £90 or £125, which often require you to travel a great distance for court – and travel expenses aren’t reimbursed – that change is significantly lower.”
Find out more about the reasons behind the strikes in this Blog post written by Savannah Taylor.