Criminal barristers accept revised pay deal on legal aid
On 10th October 2022 criminal barristers narrowly voted to accept the government’s revised pay deal on legal aid fees, thereby ending a period of indefinite strike action.
The offer by the Justice Secretary, Brandon Lewis, included a 15% increase in legal aid fees to “the vast majority of cases currently in the crown court”, £3m of funding for case preparation, £4m for pre-recorded cross-examinations of vulnerable victims and witnesses, and a £5m uplift for youth court work.
The Ministry of Justice had previously announced only a 15% increase in legal aid fees applicable to new cases from the end of September – thus not covering the 60,000-case backlog currently in the crown courts.
Does the criminal justice system still sit on a cliff edge?
Yes, according to Kirsty Brimelow KC and Chair of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) who said “the goodwill of criminal barristers is exhausted”.
As Leverets reported earlier this year, having faced relentless cuts to funding over decades, barristers in chambers nationwide are being forced out of the profession, or facing ‘burn out’, due to low pay, and the expectation they should do more for less.
Barristers have their goodwill exploited on a daily basis as the justice system buckles due to underfunding and under-resourcing, and we don’t believe that this settlement will ultimately halt the long-term decline of the criminal law profession. As a spokesperson for the CBA so rightly put it, there will always be disappointment. The underlying causes have not gone away, and the criminal justice system remains chronically underfunded.
The next phase of the criminal legal aid review is set to commence in November. This will consider the necessity for equal and fair distribution of work in chambers, and an increase in payments of fees in the magistrates’ court.
We may yet see strike action resumed, unless the government acts decisively to stop the criminal justice system from ‘tipping over the cliff edge’.