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Striking barristers resume demonstrations amid talks with ministers over pay

Criminal barristers from the Criminal Bar Association demonstrate outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, as part of their ongoing pay row with the Government (Tom Pilgrim/PA)
Criminal barristers from the Criminal Bar Association demonstrate outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, as part of their ongoing pay row with the Government (Tom Pilgrim/PA)

Striking barristers described the criminal justice system as “broken” as they took part in a fresh round of demonstrations while talks with the Government in their row over pay continue.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said discussions with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) are “progressing at pace and remain constructive” after they met new Justice Secretary Brandon Lewis last week.

But demonstrations resumed on Wednesday morning so members could air their concerns about the “obvious and critical” crisis in the criminal justice system, the body said.

It comes as High Court judges ruled that delays to criminal trials affected by the ongoing strike may not be a good enough reason to keep defendants in custody on remand if the dispute continues beyond the end of November.

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New Justice Secretary Brandon Lewis has urged barristers to return to work (Aaron Chown/PA)

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Max Hill KC brought a challenge against decisions made in two separate cases in Bristol and Manchester, where judges refused to extend the custody time limits of three defendants whose trials were delayed due to the unavailability of barristers.

CBA chair Kirsty Brimelow KC told barristers who had gathered at a demonstration outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London that they launched the industrial action to “highlight the justice system being on its knees and the appalling rates of pay that our junior barristers are expected to work under”.

Demonstrations also took place outside Liverpool and Exeter crown courts as the action continued for its 25th week despite calls from Mr Lewis for barristers to return to work.

Telling how junior barristers earn an average income of £12,200 in the first three years, Ms Brimelow said: “We continue to fight for our criminal justice system and for one of which we once again want to be proud.

“We share the same vision as the Ministry of Justice of having a world class criminal justice system. We can no longer speak about a justice system that is anything other than broken.”

Anoushka Twining, a junior barrister who has been practising for just over 18 months, told the demonstration the work that she and colleagues were doing was “not sustainable” because many hours largely go unpaid and they effectively earn a rate that is “less than minimum wage”.

Talented barristers were being put off the job as a result, with juniors leaving the profession because “they simply cannot sustain themselves, their households, if they have young families, and that’s causing a problem now,” she said, adding: “This is going to be a problem in three years, it’s going to be a problem in 30 years when we don’t have enough prosecutors and enough defence barristers to do the most serious work the criminal justice system requires of us. That will be a devastating thing for this country.”

Emin Kandola, who was called to the Bar in 2015, said barristers going on strike had taken “perhaps the most soul-destroying decision that any member of the criminal bar could have made” which would “delay justice and forswear our duties to our clients”.

She said lawyers were “not being properly remunerated” for the “hours that are being toiled”, adding: “We do not do this job for wealth or for luxury. We do it because it’s the most effective way that we can contribute to our criminal justice system.”

Barristers in England and Wales are taking part in a continuous walkout after the dispute over conditions and Government-set fees for legal aid advocacy work intensified.

Prior to that, they had striking on alternate weeks and have refused to carry out certain types of work.

Criminal barristers are due to receive a 15% fee rise from the end of September, meaning they will earn £7,000 more per year.

But there has been anger the proposed pay rise will not be made effective immediately and will apply only to new cases, not those already sitting in the backlog waiting to be dealt with by courts.