Crunch meetings will take place this week as criminal barristers decide whether the government’s revised offer of investment in the legal aid budget is acceptable.
In a notice sent to members on Friday, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said there are ‘clear signs’ that there is a need to consult the membership again.
The notice said although ‘days of action’ may still take place, there is as yet no mandate for unified protest action. However, a source close to the association told the Gazette that the option remains firmly on the table - but that it would need unified support. ‘The action was only ever suspended,’ the source said.
Just before Christmas nearly 200 junior criminal barristers wrote an open letter to CBA chair Chris Henley in which they said they supported a return to direct action in the new year.
The CBA’s latest notice calls for the cohesive action. ’Fragmented action with no plan, as a small group seem to be advocating, will undermine us and takes us nowhere. We need to remain cohesive, engage in an open, uninhibited debate amongst ourselves, but also ultimately to speak with one voice,’ the message said. It is understood this could refer to a survey sent by a group of barristers asking respondents what form of action they would be willing to take.
Meetings will be held on Thursday (10 January) at 25 Bedford Row for CBA members over 10 years' call, and another at Garden Court Chambers for members under 10 years' call. The CBA said it will also hold meetings with members around the country.
Direct action has been on hold since the government said it would make an extra £15m available last year under the revised advocates' graduated fee scheme.
In November, the government said it would set aside an additional £8m on top of the earlier promise. The revised offer came after Law Society research called in to question the £15m figure, revealing that the proposals were actually worth only £8.6m. In real terms, the total amount pledged by the government now stands at £16m.
In its message the CBA said: ‘The fundamental problems in the remuneration of more serious cases remain completely unaddressed. As the new fees are being billed the profession is understanding better the long term damage we are facing to our sustainability, quality, diversity and retention.’ It said too many 'long, serious and evidence heavy cases are not remunerated adequately’ and fees for guilty pleas and cracked trials are also inevitably too low.