Criminal barristers threaten strike action over below-minimum wage pay

Lawyers have threatened to walk out of trials and refuse new work in row with Crown Prosecution Service

Ben Chapman
Tuesday 23 April 2019 14:11
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Barristers can be paid as little as £46.50 for a day's work preparing a complex court case
Barristers can be paid as little as £46.50 for a day's work preparing a complex court case

Criminal barristers have threatened to begin walking out of trials or refusing to take on new work because of a pay row with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Barristers can be paid as little as £46.50 for a day’s work preparing a complex court case – effectively less than the minimum wage. Rates have not increased in 20 years, according to the Criminal Bar Association (CBA).

A poll by the CBA has now found that 95 per cent of members would be prepared take direct action to secure better pay, with walkouts to start within weeks.

When asked if they believe the pay for prosecuting criminal cases reflects the demands, skill and responsibility the work involves, 99.3 per cent said no. Eight in 10 respondents said they did not feel valued by the CPS.

CBA chair Chris Henley QC said: “The criminal bar has spoken with one voice.

“The current relationship with the CPS is broken.

“95 per cent are prepared to walk out or refuse to take cases if the DPP (director of public prosecutions) refuses to fix it.

“There has been no investment for 20 years, nothing, it is unsustainable to carry on like this.

“The public would be appalled if they knew how bad things have become, change is needed immediately.

“These astonishing responses from frontline prosecutors, from the most experienced QCs to the most junior barristers in the early stages of their careers, show how broken our criminal justice system has become.”

He added: “Police forces have been denied the resources they need and now can’t cope with soaring serious crime rates.

“The Crown Prosecution Service has been battered by savage cuts to its budget and lacks the capacity to deal with increasing numbers of complex cases.”

Richard Atkins QC, chair of the bar, said: “One of my priorities for 2019 is to ensure that those members of the bar who do publicly funded work are fairly and properly remunerated.

“The many barristers who are instructed by the Crown Prosecution Service perform a vital public function, without whom the system of justice in this country would not operate.”

The government announced £15m of extra funding for criminal defence barristers’ trial fees last year after they refused to take on new work for several weeks.

A Crown Prosecution Service spokesperson said: “We understand that the self-employed bar do have an important role in the criminal justice system and are working with them to make sure we have simple, fair, affordable and sustainable prosecution fee schemes for the future.

“We have already begun our review and understand the wish for this to be agreed quickly. However, there is a significant amount of research and analysis needed to make sure we get a broad and deep understanding of the issues with the current schemes. This work will take at least four months. We are committed to getting this right and will keep the profession updated throughout the process.”

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