Justice secretary Dominic Raab today condemned lawyers escalating their protest over legal aid rates - while Labour declined the opportunity to back the action.
The lord chancellor spoke out on the eve of the first day of protest as barristers and solicitors prepared to join picket lines outside courts in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol and Cardiff. In a statement, Raab said: ‘It’s regrettable that the Criminal Bar Association is striking, given only 43.5% of their members voted for this particular, most disruptive, option.
‘I encourage them to agree the proposed 15% pay rise which would see a typical barrister earn around £7,000 more a year. Their actions will only delay justice for victims.’
The CBA says that during a single year of the pandemic, barristers’ average earnings from legal aid collapsed by 23% and 83% of practitioners have been forced into personal debt or to use up savings. Juniors in their first three years of practice earn a median wage of £12,000.
Hundreds of criminal barristers began strike action today over legal aid funding that could see the criminal justice system grind to a halt within weeks.
CBA chair Jo Sidhu QC was greeted with a huge cheer as he stood on a podium, megaphone in hand, outside the country's most high-profile criminal court, the Old Bailey. 'Right now, we are engulfed in a crisis of epic proportions,' Sidhu told the crowd, who heard that the criminal justice system lost 300 barristers last year. 'We may wear a uniform but we are not a privileged species.'
Sidhu said there were lawyers putting in as much as 12 hours work for a £125 fee. 'They do it without begrudging anyone. They do it because they are professional people. By the time they come home in the evening they very often have less in their pocket than when they started their day. How can there be an expectation for people to work like that?'
Asked whether Labour supported the barristers' action, a spokesman said: 'The Conservatives’ decade long neglect of our criminal justice system and legal aid has led to damaging strike action. With record backlogs already affecting our courts, this strike is the last thing our justice system needs, and all sides should be stretching every sinew to end it. This strike action will see the near-record Crown Court backlog and trial delays increase again, leaving victims facing unacceptable waits for justice. The government needs to get back round the table with the bar and keep the wheels of justice turning for victims.'
Pictured above: Criminal barristers begin strike action outside the Old Bailey, 27th June 2022
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