The head of the criminal barrister profession has said unless ‘radical change’ to prosecution fees is promised by early next week direct action is certain. The warning accompanied an anonymous message claiming barristers have reached their ‘wits end’.
In a message sent to members the head of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), Chris Henley QC, said he is meeting the senior management team at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on Tuesday. Although the CPS has promised a review of fees, the CBA said all the signs point to it being a ‘damp squib’.
‘Unless something very radical happens on Tuesday you have made clear in your resounding responses to the recent survey what will come next. And it will,’ Henley wrote.
Last month, nearly all of the 2,050 barristers who responded to the CBA’s survey on prosecution fees (94.8%) said they were prepared to take action - potentially including no returns and days of action. When asked if they believed current remuneration rates for prosecution advocacy reflect the demands skill and responsibility the work involves, 99.3% said no.
Henley said the CBA is contacted almost daily by barristers who are either working for free or being deprived of their proper fee.
He shared an anonymous post from a junior barrister who said they were underpaid for work on a ’a serious multi-handed kidnapping trial’ which concluded last July.
’In September we were told the case was not to be paid as an enhanced fee case because the material that took the case over the threshold was ‘electronic media material falling within para 74b’. Electronic material does not fall within 74b unless it is “served on disk”. In this case it was not’.
The barrister immediately applied for a redetermination but is still, despite multiple attempts at contact, waiting for an outcome.
‘The difference in fees to me was about £5k, to my leader about £7k. These are significant sums and the delay in paying them can have a serious impact on cashflow and the ability to continue in the profession. So here we are 10 months after the sentence was passed. We cannot even put in an appeal yet because there has been no redetermination by the business manager, a necessary step in the appeals process.
’We are at our wits end. We are fed up with being treated in this frankly disgraceful way. We are expected to take these cases on not knowing whether we are even going to be paid.’