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2500 Barristers Strike over Legal Aid Funding

(Image: Getty)

Barristers in England and Wales have started industrial action over legal aid funding concerns.

Nearly 2,500 barristers will refuse to step in at the last minute to pick up court appearances or preparatory work for colleagues whose cases are over-running, leading to significant problems for the criminal justice system.

The action was supported by 90% of criminal barristers.

Criminal Legal Aid Review:

The Government has failed to reach an agreement with the profession over long-term funding of legal aid. Chaired by Sir Christopher Bellamy QC, an Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid; recommended a 15% rise in rates for legal aid.

Legal experts are concerned that the step back will cause significant delays in cases being heard.

The Review called for an additional £135 million injection of funding into the legal aid system and called on Ministers to replace the funding taken from the system to encourage lawyers back into legal aid work.

Criminal Bar Association revealed last week that 10% of criminal barristers have quit in the past year, and research from the Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales shows there has been a 40% fall in the number of firms conducting legal aid work in the last decade.

In a Statement, the Criminal Bar Association said “Criminal barristers can no longer afford to wait and, with every passing week, increasing numbers are leaving our ranks to find alternative work that offers a viable career. Without sufficient prosecutors and defenders, thousands of victims and accused will continue to face years of delay and the backlog in cases will grow ever longer. Government must act now or answer to a public that has already grown weary of excuses.”

Leaders in the Criminal Justice system have warned about the consequences of legal aid cuts over several years. Before she retired, former President of the Supreme Court, Baroness Hale of Richmond said: “I don’t think that anybody who has anything to do with the justice system of England and Wales could fail to be concerned about the problems which the reduction in resources in several directions has caused for the system as a whole.”

Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, Jo Sidhu QC added: “Nothing less than a significant injection of new funding, to make up the substantial decline in real incomes for the criminal bar, will be sufficient to forestall the continuing haemorrhaging of prosecutors and defenders from the profession.”

Dominic Raab is under pressure to speed up legal aid funding commitments.
Dominic Raab is under pressure to speed up legal aid funding commitments (Image: PA Wire)

Final Thought:

While few will concern themselves about striking barristers, it would be a mistake to underestimate the seriousness of the problem.

How can it be fair that someone is denied justice based on affordability? To put it bluntly, access to justice is a human right, not a commodity and the continued delays caused by the Government are seriously harming people’s right to accessing these services.

The Justice Secretary will be aware that relations are at an all-time low between Ministers and legal professionals – it is time the Government works to address these problems in concrete terms and ensure that people’s access to legal services is secure.

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