The barristers’ strikes in England and Wales will take place over four weeks in June and July
Lawyers have voted to strike after a dispute over legal aid.
The Criminal Bar Association (CBA), which represents barristers in England and Wales, said several days of strikes will begin in court from next week.
But what is the legal assistance dispute about, when do strikes happen and how does this affect the court system? Here’s what you need to know.
What is the legal aid dispute about?
The dispute revolves around concerns about the funding of criminal legal aid fees.
Legal aid is granted to cover the costs, or part of costs, of suspects that they cannot otherwise afford.
Lawyers apply for legal aid through the Advocates Graduated Fees Scheme (AGFS), while solicitors do so through the Litigators Graduated Fee Scheme.
Over the past 10 years, the number of attorneys working in the criminal justice system has declined, and many say they can no longer make a living.
An independent review of the system by Sir Christopher Bellamy had told ministers they needed to increase AGFS funding by at least 15% immediately and set up an independent advisory committee on criminal legal aid.
The funding boost was due to take effect later this year – but it would not cover the 58,000-plus cases that are part of the court backlog.
The CBA wants a 25% increase in AGFS.
In a report detailing her response to the Criminal Bar Association’s proposals, she said they were “inadequate” to deal with the crisis facing the criminal attorney and justice system. It said: “The CBA finds it unacceptable that the Bar Association should be expected to continue working — including the types of hours normally paid as ‘overtime’ or ‘shift work’ in other occupations — to make up all of this backlog.” at fixed rates for many years and which are now at totally unsustainable levels.”
The CBA response said the review failed to account for the “significant 23% decrease in average fee revenue” from criminal legal aid between 2019/20 and 2020/21. It also said it did not take into account the 10% drop in the number of criminal lawyers providing criminal legal assistance over the same period.
The report states: “The Criminal Bar Association, as it determined in February 2022, claims that an increase in AGFS fees of at least 25% is needed to fund criminal legal aid to address the ongoing recruitment and retention crisis in the… Arrest and Repent Criminal Bar Association.”
How many supported strike actions?
The CBA said some 81.5% of the more than 2,000 members who responded supported industrial action.
In April, the CBA began refusing to perform “return work” — the intervention and pickup of court hearings and other work for colleagues whose cases are overflowing — in what it says is a goodwill gesture to shore up the justice system.
The CBA said it also made “repeated efforts” to persuade the government to heed the Criminal Legal Aid Review’s recommendations to immediately increase its fees by 15%, but was disappointed.
The CBA’s Jo Sidhu QC and Kirsty Brimelow QC said: “This exceptional commitment to the democratic process reflects the recognition among criminal lawyers at all levels of appeal and in all circles that at stake is the survival of a specialist profession, the criminal defense attorney and of the criminal justice system which is so heavily dependent on their work.
“Without immediate action to stem the exodus of criminal attorneys from our ranks, the record backlog that has paralyzed our courts will continue to wreak havoc on victims and defendants alike, and the public will be betrayed.”
Mark Fenhalls QC, Chair of the Bar Council, said: “Any barrister who has voted is understandably angry and upset. Members of the criminal bar association have felt abused, undervalued, and overwhelmed for a decade or more.
“The criminal justice system has been politicized by figures who wanted to make political capital but were unwilling to turn the rhetoric into action and fund money.
“All of this has been compounded by the stresses and strains of the pandemic, and we’ve seen a flight from criminal practice — lawyers giving up criminal work to do other types of work that pay better and are less stressful.”
When are the walkouts?
Strike action is to last four weeks, beginning with strikes on Monday 27 June and Tuesday 28 June, increasing by one day each week up to a five-day strike Monday 18 July to Friday , July 22nd.
Lawyers are expected to picket outside courts, including at the Old Bailey in London and at the Crown Courts in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds and Manchester.
How does this affect the court system?
This means cases requiring lawyers are likely to have to be postponed, including trials in the Crown Court.
Any disruption to criminal proceedings is likely to affect the current case backlog.
Latest figures from HM Courts and Tribunals Service show that in April 2022 there were 358,076 open cases in Magistrates’ Courts and 58,271 open cases in Crown Courts.
The promised industrial action, announced on Monday following a members’ vote and described as “disappointing” by Justice Secretary James Cartlidge.
Mr Cartlidge said: “The 15 per cent pay increase that we have discussed would mean that a typical criminal lawyer would earn around £7,000 extra per year and just last week I confirmed that we are moving as quickly as possible to introduce fee increases by the end of September.
“We encourage the Criminal Bar Association to work with us rather than escalating into unnecessary strikes as this only serves to harm victims as they are forced to wait longer for justice.”
How Much Do Lawyers Earn?
The average income can be quite substantial depending on the area of law they practice. According to Chambersstudent.co.uk, a junior barrister supported by legal aid could make less than £20,000 a year.
The studylaw.co.uk website illustrates just how varied salary rates can be, stating that a typical barrister can earn between £25,000 and £300,000 a year.
As the Guardian reports, the CBA has claimed that many of its members are being forced to leave the criminal bar after earnings have fallen by nearly 30% over the past two decades.
It states that Criminal Lawyers earn an average annual income after costs of £12,200 for the first three years of their practice.
https://www.nationalworld.com/news/uk/barristers-strike-2022-legal-aid-funding-row-walkout-3738576 2022 Lawyers Strike: Legal Aid Funding Dispute Explained