In a protracted dispute over salary and working conditions, barristers are striking throughout England and Wales. Barristers outside the court reported that eight out of ten cases at London’s Old Bailey were affected by the walkout.
The strikes, according to Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, will “delay justice” because there are currently 58,000 cases backlogged in the courts. The proposed 15 percent wage increase, according to Kirsty Brimelow QC, vice chair of the Criminal Bar Association, won’t take effect until the end of 2019.
She told the BBC that at that time, it would be too late to intervene and that it would not be sufficient to stop the flood of junior barristers quitting the bar. In protest over legal aid payments, criminal barristers, who defend people in court, have been on strike.
The government pays for barristers under the legal aid system to guarantee that suspects who cannot afford attorneys are appropriately instructed and represented. For lawyers working on legal assistance cases, the government determines their pay rates.
As two murder trials at the court – one involving a young suspect – were unable to begin, dozens of barristers in wigs and robes gathered outside the Old Bailey. In front of a number of renowned courts, including Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff, and Bristol Crown Courts, other people have been striking.
The most senior judge in England and Wales, The Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, has issued a warning to those participating in picket lines that failure to appear in court could result in disciplinary action for misconduct.
A representative for Downing Street urged barristers to accept the suggested 15 percent wage increase, which would result in an average barrister earning about £7,000 more annually. However, Ms. Brimelow said to the BBC while speaking outside Manchester Crown Court that the system has long relied on “good will,” even during the pandemic, with junior attorneys putting up “crazy hours.” She said that the government, not the barristers, had brought about the problem.
The planned duration of the strikes is four weeks, with walkouts beginning on Monday and Tuesday and growing by one day each week until a five-day strike from Monday, July 18, to Friday, July 22, throughout that time.
According to lawyer and author Chris Daw, junior barristers work for a “pittance” and occasionally for nothing at all if cases are postponed.
The government’s proposed 15 percent wage increase, according to him, won’t “touch the sides” and will be “wiped out by inflation” by the time it takes effect. He stated that the strike action might last until August “or beyond” if nothing changes.
Since many claim they cannot make a livelihood when they take on cases covered by legal aid, the number of lawyers working in criminal justice, including barristers who appear before judges in courts and solicitors who instruct them, has decreased during the past ten years.