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Barristers vow to continue strike action despite 15% pay increase offer

Barristers vow to continue their action (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Barristers vow to continue their action (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Barristers will continue strike action despite the Government announcing a fee rise later this year, a body which represents them has said.

Court walkouts began across England and Wales earlier this week in a dispute over pay and conditions.

Criminal barristers will receive a 15% fee rise from the end of September, meaning they will earn £7,000 more per year, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said on Thursday, in a bid to stop the action.

Criminal barristers strike action
Court walkouts took place earlier this week (Peter Byrne/PA)

A Criminal Bar Association (CBA) spokesman told the PA news agency: “Today’s announcement is regrettably nothing new as the MoJ had always made it clear right back to March of this year that the earliest any new payment scheme would come into force would be this autumn and not before, and would not be retrospective.

“This means that a near record backlog of well over 58,000 outstanding criminal cases will continue to be paid at old rates and only be actually paid out when those cases conclude, which at the current rate of delay is around 700 days from offence to completion, on average.

“It means that it will be years before those cases on old rates are paid out and years more before any new cases taken on this autumn will actually be paid and land in the pockets of specialist criminal barristers, whose numbers have already been reduced by a quarter in the past five years and they simply cannot sustain the assault on their remuneration and working conditions.

“There are simply too few criminal barristers to prosecute, to defend and even to provide judges we all need to crack a record backlog and ensure victims of crime and the accused are not left in agonising limbo.”

He added: “The days of action planned for next week are unchanged by the latest announcement as the ballot on escalating our action remains.”

The MoJ said in response it hopes the CBA will accept the autumn rise, adding criminal barristers earned a median fee of £79,800 before expenses in 2019-20.

Criminal solicitors will also receive a 15% increase for their work in police stations and magistrates’ and youth courts, with further multimillion-pound reforms to solicitors’ pay still under consideration.

Justice minister James Cartlidge said: “Our energetic efforts to tackle the courts backlog are working but the strike action by criminal barristers threatens all that progress, despite the very generous pay offer on the table.

“The typical criminal barrister will earn an extra £7,000 a year from September, so I urge the CBA to accept this offer to stop victims having to wait longer for justice.”

CBA chair Jo Sidhu QC, said: “The statement tells us nothing new and most importantly does not change the overall timeframe for when barristers can expect to see the new 15% being any benefit to criminal barristers.”

A walkout on Monday – the first of 14 days’ action planned for the next four weeks – meant that some courtrooms sat empty, while others were able only to swear juries in before adjourning cases until later in the week, when lawyers were available.

Barristers on picket lines accused the Government of not listening to their concerns about the criminal justice system, and are angry that a proposed pay rise of 15% would not kick in immediately or apply to backlogged cases.

A No 10 spokesman said: “It remains disappointing and regrettable and it’s the case that strike action will force victims to wait longer for justice, especially when we’ve been working to clear backlogs from the pandemic and have seen those reducing.”