In this episode of HJ Talks about Abuse, Kathleen, Danielle and Feleena discuss the recent announcement of the strike by the Criminal Bar Association. The abuse team discuss how a strike has come about and what the affect may be for survivors, both positive and negative, not only now but in the future.
In December 2021, the independent review of criminal legal aid, chaired by Sir Christopher Bellamy QC, published its report.
Key recommendations included:
- Set up an independent advisory board
- Immediate funding uplift for criminal legal aid firms
- Local solutions for better communication
- Investigate areas of unmet need for legal aid and new ways of working
- Collect meaningful data
- Reform fee schemes
- Restructure police station remuneration
- Other aspects of police station work
- Pre-charge engagement
- Post-charge engagement
- Magistrates’ court – keep current scheme
- Youth court – more resources
- Restructure the litigators’ graduated fees scheme
- Pay uplift for advocates
- Restructure the advocates’ graduated fees scheme
- Other expenditure
The report told ministers they needed to increase funding by at least 15% to prevent a major crisis in criminal justice. Barristers say much more is needed to stop an exodus from criminal law to other branches of the profession.
The government response to the report was slow, and criminal barristers grew increasingly troubled.
In March, the government announced, among other points, that an extra £135 million will be spent on the sector every year. There would be boosted “pay for lawyers representing suspects in police stations by 15% to tackle the perverse incentive that currently encourages lawyers to wait and represent defendants in Crown Courts because it pays better. The proposals will improve the advice available in police stations and stop cases going to court unnecessarily, delivering speedier justice to victims.”
The criminal bar association shortly after, in April, announced “no returns” action. Which means stepping in and picking up court hearings and other work for colleagues whose cases are overrunning. It is often described as a gesture of goodwill to prop up the justice system.
Criminal barristers largely feel that the Government are refusing legitimate demands for a fair settlement. Now matters have escalated; criminal barristers have voted to strike. The Criminal Bar Association said of the 2,055 of its members who had voted, 80% had backed court walkouts from Monday 27 June. This means that criminal defence barristers will not only refuse to take on work that is returned, but also on new work. The number of days that defence barristers will refuse to work will increase week-on-week until a pause at the end of July – and then a resumption of the action on the same pattern.
In a joint statement, Jo Sidhu QC and Kirsty Brimelow QC, chair and vice chair of the association, said:
“Without immediate action to halt the exodus of criminal barristers from our ranks, the record backlog that has crippled our courts will continue to inflict misery upon victims and defendants alike, and the public will be betrayed”.
The abuse team identify in the podcast how essential an effective criminal justice system is for survivors, not just those who are accused.