Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2811

Barristers fight for pay and justice for all

The median annual income for junior criminal barristers inside the first three years of practice is £12,200.
Issue 2811
Group of people on barristers' strike  in wigs are joined by supporting health worker with Unison placard

A health worker joined the barristers’ strike protest in Manchester on Monday

Barristers involved in criminal cases began strikes and other action over pay and the cuts to the legal aid system this week.

They held “days of action” on Monday and Tuesday which meant that those scheduled to defend in legally-aided criminal cases did not go into court. They are also refusing to take on new cases.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said around 81.5 percent of its more than 2,000 members who voted in a ballot supported the action.

Criminal barrister Brian Richardson told Socialist Worker from outside the Old Bailey, “We aren’t fat cats seeking to protect substantial salaries and shouldn’t be lectured about pay restraint by government ministers. Many of them enjoy levels of wealth that criminal ­barristers can only dream about.

“We have no qualms about fighting for fair pay, but our struggle is not just about ­barristers’ fees. There needs to be a system of justice that respects all who work within it and really does offer equal access to those who are forced to use it.

“We should also reject attempts to pitch us against our lay clients. We have heard talk of the so-called “deserving” and ­“undeserving” defendants before. In a civilised society ­everyone deserves justice not just those with the wealth to pay for it.

He added, “It was great to see the RMT railworkers’ union come to support us. We are all in this together against a rotten government.”

The CBA plans ­similar action from Monday to Wednesday next week with further escalation to come.

In 2018 barristers were offered a small rise in fees and a full independent review of criminal legal aid after they threatened strikes. The review arrived three years later and ­proposed an increase in funding and fees. But it has not been implemented.

The government has slashed legal aid from vast numbers of people and cut the rates paid to barristers and solicitors.

Some barristers, ­particularly those dealing with commercial cases, are very well paid. But many others aren’t.

The Legal Aid rules set limits on fees. For 13 hours, a solicitor would earn around £250. That’s an hourly rate of less than £20. Some barristers say the time they spend preparing cases means their hourly earnings are below minimum wage.

The median annual income for junior criminal barristers inside the first three years of practice is £12,200.

Brian added, “The ­criminal bar must recruit, retain and promote people from all parts of society who look like and reflect Britain in all its ­diversity in the 21st century.

“We can only do that if we are able to ensure that new recruits don’t simply survive but thrive.”

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