Barristers vote to walk out in protest at government cuts Favorite 


Mar 29 2018



Criminal barristers in England and Wales have voted to stage mass walkouts and refuse new publicly funded cases in protest against sustained government cuts to the justice system.

In a poll organised by the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), 90% of its members backed direct action from 1 April. They are likely to be supported by solicitors working in the criminal courts and possibly other court staff.

The protest was triggered by changes to the advocates’ graduated fee scheme (AGFS), which barristers claim represents a further cut to their income.

Angela Rafferty QC, the chair of the CBA, said: “The [criminal justice] system is desperate, as are we. We are informing our members today that they should consider not taking any [new] work from April 1, the implementation date of the reforms.

“We will hold days of action. We will fight to improve the justice system for us and everyone else. We announce this action today with heavy hearts.”

The CBA has 4,000 members, not all professionally active. There were 2,317 votes cast, of which 2,081 were in favour of action. The organisation is planning days of mass walkouts when lawyers boycott the courts. Barristers are self-employed.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has suffered the deepest cuts of any Whitehall department since 2010 and shut 258 courts across England and Wales.

The collapse of a series of rape cases because of failures to disclose key evidence has highlighted pressures on the criminal justice system. Lawyers say they are not being paid for reading and assessing the massive amount of digitally generated material routinely involved in many cases.

A CBA list of five demands given to the MoJ includes a request for specific payments “for high volumes of disclosed material”.

Rafferty added: “Lack of funding in the criminal justice system has resulted in near-collapse. The public accounts committee (PAC) in 2016 said the criminal justice system was at breaking point. In my view it is now broken. We have to fix it.

In 2016, the PAC reported there had been a 26% cut in spending on the criminal justice system over the five years since 2010-11. Further cuts of £600m to MoJ funding were announced by the Treasury in November 2017 – amounting to a 9% reduction of its budget to £6bn by 2019-20.

“For years the criminal justice system has been held together by the professionalism and goodwill of judges, court staff and lawyers, but the supply of sticking plaster has run out … The profession’s fees have been relentlessly cut for over 20 years by nearly 40%.

“There have been no increases whatsoever in all that time. Some young barristers calculate that they earn £90 a day. Some who work long hours say they are earning less than the minimum wage.”

Labour’s justice spokesman, Richard Burgon, said: “You cannot do justice on the cheap. There is a real danger that the crisis across our justice system, driven by the deepest cuts to any government department, will tip over into an emergency.”

The Law Society is already fighting legal action over cuts to fees paid to defence solicitors for reading criminal evidence, warning that the changes will lead to more miscarriages of justice.

The Law Society president, Joe Egan, said: “Criminal legal aid solicitors are critical for ensuring that anyone accused of wrongdoing has a fair trial. If it is not economically viable for solicitors to undertake this work, the integrity of the whole criminal justice system will be compromised.”

Andrew Walker QC , the chair of the Bar Council, said: “If criminal barristers choose individually to take action to make their feelings clear to those in government who hold the purse-strings, while remaining true to the ethos of our profession, then we believe that they will have the support of their colleagues across the bar.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We are extremely disappointed with the position the CBA has taken today, especially given that they and other members of the bar participated fully in the design of the [AGFS] scheme.

“Our reforms will reflect the actual work done in court, representing better value for the taxpayer, and will replace an archaic scheme under which barristers were able to bill by pages of evidence.”

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