Hudson: bar strike would ‘damage profession’
Strike action by the bar will damage the legal profession and the justice system, the Law Society’s chief executive Desmond Hudson has warned, after a survey showed that nine out of 10 criminal barristers are prepared to refuse work in protest over fee rates and reforms.
A survey completed by 1,685 Criminal Bar Association members - half the membership - revealed that 89% of respondents would be prepared to take lawful direct action. Grievances include falling fees, late payments, competitive tendering and a ‘one case, one fee’ payment model, as well as the new accreditation scheme for advocates.
In a speech last week, CBA chair Max Hill QC told members: ‘Let us fight, and let us remember the option to strike.’
Solicitors reacted coolly to the call. Hudson said successive cuts to legal aid had affected every criminal defence lawyer in the country, with many paid less than nurses and teachers. However ‘a strike is likely to cause further damage to the legal profession, defendants, victims and the justice system as a whole’.
Hudson added: ‘We will continue to press government to reform the many procedural and other problems that lead to wasted expenditure and to change the fee structure which currently means some advocates are paid much more than others.’
Other representative groups were reluctant to indicate whether solicitors would back barristers.
Chair of the Solicitors Association of Higher Court Advocates Yvonne Spencer said the bar had not consulted the group over any action. While many of the bar’s grievances concern solicitor-advocates as well as barristers, ‘strike action is unlikely to be successful’ due to the oversupply of advocates, she said.
The group’s former chair Avtar Bhatoa said: ‘While a commonality of interest clearly exists between advocates, the outdated tribal nature of practice means there is no unity between self-employed barristers and higher court advocates. There is simply no fraternal dialogue between them.
‘Bodies like the CBA and Bar Standards Board are hostile and spend a great deal of their time scheming against and criticising solicitors in terms that are unprofessional and most unwise, but are a predictable symptom of competition in an environment where one side sticks to a referral model only but watches in anguish as its caseload diminishes.’
However, Bill Waddington, vice-chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, said: ‘We will be as supportive as we possibly can.’