The criminal bar has secured further hardship provisions from the government to sustain practitioners during the pandemic, as chambers report huge reductions in income.

Advance payments will become easier to access, with criminal advocates - including solicitor advocates - allowed to invoice earlier and for smaller sums. The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) announced that the threshold for work done is due to be reduced from £1,000 to £450. The figure previously stood at £5,000. Criminal advocates will also be able to invoice one month after receiving instructions, as opposed to six months. The amendment to the statutory instrument is expected to be laid tomorrow and come into force on Friday.

However Caroline Goodwin QC, chair of the CBA, said the Ministry of Justice measures are not enough. In her weekly message to members, Goodwin said the CBA is seeking the expansion of the government’s self employment scheme to cover those who do not qualify – particularly very junior barristers - and is pressing for the £50,000 trading profits threshold to be increased. 

The CBA also proposed that fee-paid judges be furloughed, noting ‘the very many businesses in other industries’ using the job retention scheme. ’We will continue to pursue this avenue and encourage our members to request furloughing,’ she said. 

A chambers relief package, funded by a levy on the existing legal aid budget, was also suggested. ‘It is clear to us that, although further individual relief would be welcome, relief for chambers is vital to safeguard access to justice and the future of the profession,’ Goodwin said.

According to a CBA survey conducted at the beginning of April, the majority of criminal sets have seen a drop in income over the past six weeks, with 40% of respondents reporting a drop in excess of 50%.

Every set surveyed reported a reduction in the volume of new instructions over the past six weeks with 85% of respondents reporting a reduction of over 50%.