Criminal barristers vote this week on whether to stage a complete one day walkout in their long-running dispute over legal aid and prosecution fees. The government said it was 'disappointed' by the call.
The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has proposed a ’whole profession walkout’ on 1 July. It also proposes that prosecution and defence barristers refuse returns from 1 July.
The CBA intends to stage a national criminal justice summit after the strike, if barristers vote in favour of action.
Chris Henley, chair of the CBA, said: ‘The Criminal Bar Association understands its responsibility to the profession, and to the wider public to safeguard and champion the highest possible standards in the criminal courts, but this requires publicly funded lawyers to be able to see a sustainable and viable financial future ahead of them.
‘It is astonishing and shameful how wilfully and casually those with the power to choose are risking complete professional collapse.’
In a survey conducted by the CBA in April, 95% of criminal barristers said they would take direct action to improve fees.
The Ministry of Justice has suffered worse cuts to its budget than any other Whitehall department, and criminal barristers said they can receive as little as £46.50 for a day in court.
A spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service said: 'We are well aware of the concerns being raised by the Bar but are disappointed they have taken this step.
'Work is underway, but a significant amount of research and analysis is necessary to develop new schemes that are simple, fair, affordable and sustainable. We expect to conclude this work by September.'
A government spokesperson added: 'We have worked closely with the Bar to increase spend by £23 million, a rise of 10 per cent, and so are extremely disappointed by the possibility of strike action. We’ve also committed to a full review of legal aid payment schemes.
'We urge all barristers to consider the most constructive way forward before casting their vote.'
The Bar Council and the Young Barristers' Committee said in a joint statement: 'The CBA’s concerns, as evidenced by today’s ballot, call for an immediate commitment from the CPS and the MoJ to ensure that the criminal justice system is funded properly.
‘Those who work so hard in the public interest deserve to be paid fairly and properly for the very demanding work they do.’
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: 'We have worked closely with the Bar to increase spend by £23 million, a rise of 10%, and so are extremely disappointed by the possibility of strike action. We’ve also recently committed to a full review of legal aid payment schemes and are already engaging with all levels of legal professionals on this. We urge all barristers to consider the most constructive way forward before casting their vote.'
The ballot closes at 5pm on Tuesday 4 June.