updated on 11 April 2018
Dozens of barristers’ chambers are refusing to take on new defence work in protest at the crisis in the justice system created by the government’s cuts and reforms, the latest being changes to the Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS).
The barristers’ action is having a serious impact – one murder case made headlines in recent weeks because the defendant’s solicitors could not find a barrister to represent him at his first hearing. Although the Criminal Law Solicitors Association supports the action, solicitors remain concerned that as the barristers’ strike continues to disrupt the courts, the government will assign defendants unsuitable counsel as a panic measure, further undermining the quality of the justice system. But the chair of the Criminal Bar Association, Angela Rafferty QC, has said that strike action will continue. She said in a statement: “We must have strength and work together to get through the next months and to hold firm…we need the lord chancellor and his ministers to put justice in her rightful place at the centre of this democracy”. It should be noted that strike action is a last resort and is intended to cause serious disruption as the only way for the striking group to have their concerns taken seriously after all other attempts at dialogue have been ignored.
The Law Gazette reports that leading sets 25 Bedford Row, Doughty Street and Matrix are among the 50-plus chambers to join the strike. Meanwhile, the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association has also expressed solidarity with striking barristers. Its president, Greg Powell, commented that the Ministry of Justice MoJ is now “reaping the consequences of decades of cuts”.
A spokesperson for the MoJ said that any action to disrupt the courts is “unacceptable” and that “all necessary steps” will be taken to provide defendants with representation. He added: “We greatly value the work of criminal advocates and will continue to engage with the Bar over their concerns regarding the AGFS scheme”.