Criminal barristers vote on walk-out over legal aid cuts

updated on 24 May 2019

Criminal barristers are voting on whether to stage a one-day walk-out as their dispute with the Ministry of Justice over fees continues.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) is proposing a “full profession walk-out” on 1 July, as government cuts to the justice system continue to make it impossible for many junior barristers to have financially viable careers. Members of the CBA are voting on whether to approve the action, with votes closing at 5:00pm on Tuesday 28 May.

Last year, thousands of barristers and dozens of chambers went ‘on strike’ over highly damaging cuts to the justice system, driven through on the austerity agenda pursued by the last three Conservative-led governments. Barristers later narrowly voted to accept a new funding offer from the government, although this later turned out to be less than was promised and many barristers were left deeply unhappy with the damage still being done to their profession and the country’s justice system.

The Law Gazette reports that sweeping cuts have left many barristers earning as little as £46.50 a day, from which they also have to deduct travel costs to get to and from the cases they are working. The Ministry of Justice has suffered the worst cuts of all government departments since 2010.

If barristers vote in favour of the latest action, the CBA also plans to hold a national criminal justice summit to get all the problems the system is facing out in the open.

Chris Henley, chair of the CBA, said: “The Criminal Bar Association understands its responsibility to the profession, and to the wider public to safeguard and champion the highest possible standards in the criminal courts, but this requires publicly funded lawyers to be able to see a sustainable and viable financial future ahead of them. It is astonishing and shameful how wilfully and casually those with the power to choose are risking complete professional collapse.”

A spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service responded: “We are well aware of the concerns being raised by the Bar but are disappointed they have taken this step. We wrote to them earlier this month to make clear that we hugely value their work and share their desire for a swift and positive conclusion to the review of fees schemes.

“Work is underway, but a significant amount of research and analysis is necessary to develop new schemes that are simple, fair, affordable and sustainable. We expect to conclude this work by September. This is an ambitious timescale, but reflects the importance attached to this work.”