Disheartening conversations with senior colleagues may be pushing junior lawyers towards the exit door, the head of the criminal bar has suggested, urging more optimism and encouragement to tackle an 'unprecedented' recruitment crisis.

In her latest weekly update, Angela Rafferty QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, says highly talented and committed junior barristers are leaving crime 'in droves' due to a lack of financial certainty. 'Without investment in criminal legal aid both barristers and solicitors will see our numbers continue to haemorrhage,' she said.

Media reports of police and prosecution disclosure failures show that miscarriages of justice are 'inevitable' without committed solicitors and barristers, Rafferty said. The association is working with Richard Atkinson, chair of the Law Society's criminal law committee, to address the recruitment problem, consulting with the senior judiciary, Ministry of Justice, wider government and professional bodies, she revealed.

Angela Rafferty QC

Angela Rafferty QC

Source: Red Lion Chambers

In the meantime, 'one thing we can all do today is to welcome and encourage those who are interested in a career with us', Rafferty suggested. 'We could highlight the fascinating aspects and high importance of our work and take a few minutes to talk. We could join with our solicitor colleagues in discussing ways to resolve this problem rather than giving up and giving in to a sense of despair (as justified as this would be).

'We could also try supporting those young lawyers who are committed to a career in criminal law. Many report disheartening conversations and a real lack of inspiration from more senior colleagues. Those of us who are senior will remember how important guidance and encouragement was when we started. Optimism and determination to help costs nothing and can go some way in improving morale.'

Meanwhile, the association is asking every criminal silk to contribute towards its bursary fund for pupils and 'very junior' barristers. 'It will help those in the early years get on their feet, buy essentials for practice and survive,' Rafferty said.