Legal aid reform: Criminal barristers vote overwhelmingly in favour of direct action

No returns from 11 April ❌

Criminal barristers across England and Wales have voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking action in protest over criminal legal aid fees.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) confirmed on Sunday evening that 94.34% of the 1,908 members who voted had agreed to a ‘no returns’ policy from 11 April. The move means barristers will not accept cases that are returned by colleagues who have a diary clash.

The decision follows a survey of nearly 2,000 CBA members in January that found 96.5% were in favour of taking action if the government did not “commit to a substantial increase in criminal legal aid”.

The action centres around an independent review of criminal legal aid which found that an additional £135 million a year was required to help nurse the crumbling system back to health after “years of neglect”. The review’s chair, Sir Christopher Bellamy QC, stressed there was “no scope for further delay”.

The government has promised to respond to the review by the end of March, but barristers fear no action will be taken until at least the summer and possibly beyond.

The Justice Secretary Dominic Raab previously told Radio 4’s Today programme that, “the one thing that would hold back recovery in the courts system is if the Criminal Bar Association and criminal lawyers go on strike”.

In a statement the CBA said: “94.34% of the 1,908 members who cast their votes have made it absolutely clear that they are not willing to be led by a government timetable that brings no prospect of a settlement until the end of September. They have already waited too long. Through our labour and our goodwill, we have sustained a chronically underfunded criminal justice system on behalf of the public while suffering substantial reductions in our real incomes and exhausted by the hugely increased demands placed upon us, often for little or no reward.”

It continued:

“We have already lost too many of our colleagues who can no longer afford to maintain their commitment to criminal work and who have left our ranks out of desperation and despair. Every day we are losing more. We have shrunk to a mere 2,400 full time criminal barristers. The future viability and diversity of the criminal bar is already imperilled. It is a recognition of the scale of this crisis that has driven so many of you to vote in favour of action.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We are disappointed in a vote for this course of action just days before we announce our plans to create a stable and sustainable legal aid sector for the future. We encourage CBA members to read our proposals in full and respond to the consultation, rather than being drawn into action that will harm victims of crime.”

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Legal aid reform: Criminal barristers vote overwhelmingly in favour of direct action