Criminal barristers are currently staging a number of strikes. As you would expect, the strike is because of dissatisfaction with pay and the rates barristers receive for the work they carry out.
There is a misconception that all barristers and solicitors are paid vast amounts and that all are wealthy. That is not the case. Whilst no doubt, there are some very wealthy lawyers, the vast majority are not. It tends to be those that deal with criminal work, especially the more junior lawyers, that can be paid surprisingly little, even less than minimum wage because of the fee scales in place.
Barristers are usually self employed and have to deduct from any sums they receive, the costs they incur such as travel, insurance, membership of chambers.
The Criminal Bar Association calculates that junior criminal barristers, in the first three years earn an average of £12,200 per year, after expenses. So some will be more but some will be less.
For example, a criminal barrister can earn only £88 for a full day’s work on a bail application. In addition to the time spent at court, the barrister also needs to read the papers and prepare, and also travel to court.
The problem relates to the fee scales that criminal barristers receive through legal aid, so government funding for people who cannot afford legal representation. The rates have not been reviewed for a considerable period and are being eroded further by the cost of living crisis. A review took place, the findings of which were released in December, recommending an increase of 15%.
The Criminal Bar Association is pushing for an increase of 25% and is critical of the delay of the government in acting upon the recommendations contained in the review.
A failure to reach agreement has resulted in these strikes. Our understanding of the strikes is that criminal barristers will refuse to take on new work and won’t pick up cases where another barrister can for some reason no longer deal with the case (often barristers will pick up ongoing cases from one another due to clashes / hearings running over). There is already a very large backlog of claims in the criminal court system, with these strikes likely to worsen it. Cases will undoubtedly be postponed and put back.
In one report, apparently a person being prosecuted has been told to defend herself, because she was unhappy with the barrister representing her and a replacement could not be found because of the strikes, which you can read here.
Many criminal barristers are walking away permanently and many more lawyers are steering to other areas of law.
The government hopes to implement the recommended 15% increase by September, albeit they will only apply to new instructions, not those already in the system.
Our site deals with civil claims rather than criminal disputes but we thought a brief explanation of why this is happening would be of interest.