Justice Secretary Dominic Raab says criminal barrister strikes are 'regrettable' as first walkout begins

Barristers who specialise in criminal law are taking industrial action over a pay dispute. It follows a three-day protest among rail workers last week.

Criminal barristers will stage court walkouts for several days from today, a move which the justice secretary has described as “regrettable”.

The lawyers are taking industrial action over legal add funding and will refuse to accept new cases and to carry out “return work” – stepping in and picking up hearings and other work when colleagues are on cases which overrun.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) represents barristers in England and Wales and said around 81.5% of its 2,000 members voted on the ballot.

Those who voted for walkouts also supported the option to refuse new cases.

In a statement released on the eve of the strikes, Dominic Raab – who was a trainee solicitor at Magic Circle law firm Linklaters in 2000 – said: “It’s regrettable that the Criminal Bar Association is striking, given only 43.5% of their members voted for this particular, most disruptive, option.

“I encourage them to agree the proposed 15% pay rise which would see a typical barrister earn around £7,000 more a year.

“Their actions will only delay justice for victims.”

However, a CBA spokesperson said the pay rise offered would not land immediately as it would not apply to backlogged cases, adding: “The existing rates will remain on all of the cases stuck on this record backlog until they conclude which may be many years away.”

As of the end of April, there were 58,271 backlogged cases, according to HM Courts and Tribunal Service figures.

How much do barristers earn?

In the UK the Bar is seen as a prestigious, high-earning profession.

At the top end of the profession, 2% of barristers earn over £1m annually, while nearly 12% earn less than £30,000, according to data from the Bar Standards Board.

So why are barristers taking industrial action over pay?

The amount a barrister earns is largely dictated by the area of practice, and while junior barristers at the most successful commercial chambers can earn in excess of £70,000 their counterparts at criminal and family sets can make £20,000 or less at the start of their careers.

This is before deductions from chambers’ rent, clerks’ fees, tax, VAT, travel costs, insurance and compulsory Continuing Professional Development programmes are taken into account.

The reason barristers pay for travel, insurance and other fees is because they are self-employed and must cover their own expenses.

The mounting costs and low pay in the criminal bar, as well as the long hours and strenuous work, has led to a rising attrition rate among junior barristers.

Junior barristers earn below minimum wage

Jo Sidhu QC, chair of the CBA, said the action is not merely about pay but “redressing the shortfall in the supply of criminal barristers to help deal with the crisis in our courts”.

“We have already suffered an average decrease in our real earnings of 28% since 2006 and juniors in their first three years of practice earn a median income of only £12,200, which is below the minimum wage,” he said.

Mr Sidhu said almost 40% of junior criminal barristers left the profession in one year and more than 25% of specialist criminal barristers have quit in the last five years.

“There remain around 2,400 specialist criminal barristers whose diminishing pool provide the very prosecutors, defence counsel, and part-time judges the government relies on to clear a record backlog of cases and delay of their own making,” he said.

“In reality, our judges have been forced to adjourn 567 trials last year at the last minute because there simply wasn’t a prosecuting or defence barrister available.

“These shortages in manpower are causing increasing misery to victims and those accused who are desperately waiting, sometimes for years, to get justice and to see their cases finally resolved in court.”


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The strike at the Bar follows industrial action by rail workers last week and there are reports of unrest among other public sector workers, including teachers and NHS staff.

The strike action is intended to last for four weeks, beginning with walkouts on 27 June and 28 June, increasing by one day each week until a five-day strike on 18 July.

It means that cases at which barristers are required are likely to have to be postponed, including crown court trials.

Barristers are expected to stage picket lines outside court at the Old Bailey in London and at crown courts in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds and Manchester.

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