Barristers walk out of courts in strike over pay with over 1,000 cases affected each day

27 June 2022, 11:26 | Updated: 27 June 2022, 11:32

Barristers have walked out in a strike over pay and conditions
Barristers have walked out in a strike over pay and conditions. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Barristers have begun staging several days of court walkouts in a dispute over legal aid funding.

The latest industrial action comes after strikes by rail workers, and there are warnings of further action by public sector staff.

It comes as officials struggle with a backlog of crown court trials that has been made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, rising from 40,000 in March 2020 to 58,271 in April 2022.

Criminal barristers will refuse to accept new cases and to carry out "return work" - stepping in and picking up court hearings and other work for colleagues whose cases are overrunning.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA), which represents barristers in England and Wales, said 81.5% of the more than 2,000 members who voted in a ballot supported walking out of court.

More than 1,000 cases will be impacted on each day of the strikes, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said.

Of those who backed walkouts, most subsequently voted for the option of refusing new cases as well. In total, 43.5% of all those balloted opted for this particular combination.

In a statement released ahead of the first day of strikes, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said: "It's regrettable that the Criminal Bar Association is striking, given only 43.5% of their members voted for this particular, most disruptive, option.

"I encourage them to agree the proposed 15% pay rise which would see a typical barrister earn around £7,000 more a year.

"Their actions will only delay justice for victims."

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However, a CBA spokesperson said the 15% pay rise would not land immediately since it would not apply to backlogged cases.

They said: "The existing rates will remain on all of the cases stuck on this record backlog until they conclude which may be many years away."

As of the end of April, there are 58,271 backlogged cases, according to HM Courts and Tribunal Service figures.

Jo Sidhu QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association said the action is not merely about pay but "redressing the shortfall in the supply of criminal barristers to help deal with the crisis in our courts".

"We have already suffered an average decrease in our real earnings of 28% since 2006 and juniors in their first three years of practice earn a median income of only £12,200, which is below minimum wage," he said.

Mr Sidhu said almost 40% of junior criminal barristers left the profession in one year.

Meanwhile, more than a quarter of specialist criminal barristers - around 300 - quit in the last five years, he added.

"There remain around 2,400 specialist criminal barristers whose diminishing pool provide the very prosecutors, defence counsel, and part-time judges the Government relies on to clear a record backlog of cases and delay of their own making.

"In reality, our judges have been forced to adjourn 567 trials last year at the last minute because there simply wasn't a prosecuting or defence barrister available.

"These shortages in manpower are causing increasing misery to victims and those accused who are desperately waiting, sometimes for years, to get justice and to see their cases finally resolved in court."

Barristers are the latest profession to go on strike, ahead of planned action by rail workers later this week, and reports of unrest among teaching staff and NHS employees.

In April, the CBA started to refuse to carry out return work, which is described as a gesture of goodwill to prop up the justice system.

The strike action is intended to last for four weeks, beginning with walkouts on Monday June 27 and Tuesday June 28, increasing by one day each week until a five-day strike from Monday July 18 to Friday July 22.

It means that cases at which barristers are required are likely to have to be postponed, including crown court trials.

Barristers are expected to stage picket lines outside court including at the Old Bailey in London and at crown courts in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds and Manchester.