LONDON (Bywire News) - The Criminal Bar Association and its members have become the latest workers' organisation to agree to take strike action – in this instance, against the Ministry of Justice, it's boss Dominic Raab and the government overall.
Bywire News has been following the story. You can read the background to it here. Essentially, successive governments have decimated the Legal Aid system to the point where criminal barristers and other professionals are severely underpaid and have no confidence in the government.
Despite an independent inquiry finding Legal Aid needed at least £135m invested into it, the government has so far failed to meet this expectation. It has left the system on the brink of collapse. So, the CBA has been taking direct action since April 11.
Members have been refusing ‘return work’ (work that is not booked in with them). So far, the government hasn’t budged – so the CBA balloted members on further action. This closed on Sunday, June 19 – and members have voted for physical walk-outs from courts.
The CBA said in a statement for Bywire News that the strikes would operate as follows:
- Week 1: Monday, June 27 and Tuesday, June 28.
- Week 2: Monday, July 4 through to Wednesday, July 6.
- Week 3: Monday, July 11 through to Thursday, July 14 July.
- Week 4: Monday, July 18 through to Friday, July 22.
During the week commencing July 25, the CBA will take no action. But starting on August 1, the days of action would restart for a further full week. The CBA then said:
“The pattern of alternating weeks would then continue, with no end date, remaining under review and subject to the response from government”.
This represents a major piece of industrial action from barristers. It cannot be understated, nor can the anger and frustration that has led the CBA and its members to this point.
Meanwhile, the MoJ has been frantically spinning the CBA vote – or, if you prefer, manipulating the result. The Guardian reported it said that:
“only 43.5% of voters opted for 3(C), the option likely to cause the most disruption”.
The reality was that over 81% of those who voted, voted for strike action (option three) – the three options within this were:
- Just strikes (option a).
- Strikes plus not accepting return work (option b).
- Strikes, not accepting return work and not accepting new work (option c).
Plus, option c was the most voted for choice. And with an 85% turnout, the CBA’s has more backing from members for than even the current RMT strike (a 71% turnout), starting on June 21.
There will also be protests across England and Wales during this time. On Monday, June 27 at 10 am, barristers and supporters will be at the following courts:
- Central Criminal (the Old Bailey).
- Birmingham Crown.
- Manchester Crown.
- Leeds Crown.
- Bristol Crown.
- Cardiff Crown.
The CBA says members should aim to replicate these protests every Monday while strikes continue.
CBA chair Jo Sidhu QC and Vice Chair Kirsty Brimelow QC said of the result in a statement for Bywire News:
“This extraordinary commitment to the democratic process reflects a recognition amongst criminal barristers at all levels of call and across all Circuits that what is at stake is the survival of a profession of specialist criminal advocates and of the criminal justice system which depends so critically upon their labour. Without immediate action to halt the exodus of criminal barristers from our ranks, the record backlog that has crippled our courts will continue to inflict misery upon victims and defendants alike, and the public will be betrayed”.
The background to this action is a criminal justice system collapsing in on itself. Government figures show that court backlogs are up 43% on pre-pandemic levels and up 76% on their record low from three years ago.
Sidhu is scathing about the government’s response to this. He said in a statement for Bywire News that it is “winging it” in terms of the criminal justice system, and that its action (or lack of):
“speaks of disdain for the thousands of victims of crime and defendants forced to wait record numbers of years for their cases to be heard within backlogs that show no signs of reducing”.
Criminal barristers are right to strike. Successive governments have been playing fast and loose with the criminal justice system for years. Under Dominic Raab, the issues are becoming further entrenched. And with a government that has both contempt for principled lawyers and the rule of law itself – no action would be tantamount to complicity in the degradation of criminal justice in the UK.
(Writing by Steve Topple, editing by Klaudia Fior)