The criminal bar could take direct action in April if the government fails to substantially increase legal aid funding by the end of March.
For the past seven days the Criminal Bar Association has been surveying members for their verdict on the government’s timetable to respond to the recommendations of the independent criminal legal aid review.
Nearly 2,000 criminal barristers - an 80% turnout - responded. Of these:
- 91% said it was unreasonable for the government to delay publication of its full response to the independent review by the end of March;
- 94% said criminal barristers should take action including, as a minimum, no returns, if the government fails to undertake by Valentine’s Day to publish its full response, including a timetable for implementation, and complete a statutory consultation on the reforms by end of March;
- 96% said a £35m remuneration increase under the advocates graduated fee scheme is insufficient for the criminal bar’s long-term viability; and
- 96% said criminal barristers should take action to include, as a minimum, no returns if the government is not prepared to commit to a substantial increase of additional funding for the AGFS.
CBA chair Jo Sidhu QC said: ‘The views of the criminal bar could not be more clear. Government must now take the urgent action necessary to resolve the funding crisis that has left the criminal justice system on its knees and driven out hundreds of our colleagues who could no longer sustain a career on pay that has declined in real terms over the last 25 years.
'We have waited too long. We will wait no longer. Without the requisite undertakings from government by 14 February, the CBA will move directly to a ballot for action. Solidarity at the criminal bar has never been stronger. There is no going back.
'The votes demonstrate a unity of purpose within the profession and send a clear message to government: that it is time to treat our advocates with the fairness, respect and decency that we deserve.'
Lord chancellor Dominic Raab told Radio 4's Today programme that 'the one thing that would hold back recovery in the court system is if the CBA and criminal lawyers go on strike. I don't think that would be supported across the wider sectors of the justice system and I certainly don't think that will be supported by the public'.