One out, all out
The warning by Criminal Bar Association chair Max Hill QC today that barristers are prepared to strike - backed by a survey showing near unanimous outrage - is a watershed moment.
Hill notes barristers’ reluctance to use their ‘ultimate weapon’, namely ‘stopping the courts’, to make their point, but perhaps that is what it will take before the government will listen.
Listening, as anyone involved in the campaign against the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, will know, is not the government’s strongest suit.
The self-employed status of barristers, although in one sense a weakness, as they are vulnerable and might be left exposed if only a few take action, is also a great strength.
They are not beholden to or controlled by a union. If they each decide to withdraw their labour, in a similar fashion to that being done by many freelance interpreters who are opposing the new single contractor booking regime, there is little than can be done to rein them in.
But for any strike to achieve its aim, the unanimity of purpose suggested by the survey would need to be matched by the criminal bar en masse, and importantly, would need to be supported by the bar’s solicitor colleagues.
When push comes to shove, will this be seen?
Catherine Baksi is a reporter on the Gazette
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