Barristers’ strike not responsible for ‘disaster of justice’, head of Rape Crisis says

Exclusive: Rape has already been ‘effectively decriminalised’, charity says after Dominic Raab accuses barristers of harming victims

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Editor
Monday 29 August 2022 15:57 BST
Barristers on the picket line outside Manchester Crown Court in June
Barristers on the picket line outside Manchester Crown Court in June (PA)

Striking barristers are not responsible for a “disaster of justice” facing Britain, the head of one of the country’s largest victims’ charities has said.

Jayne Butler, the chief executive of Rape Crisis England and Wales, said its support lines and services experience the anguish of “survivors who almost never see justice” every day.

In an article for The Independent on the eve of an all-out strike by barristers, she said rape had already been “effectively decriminalised” by the criminal justice system, with only 1.3 per cent of reported offences charged.

“Tiny proportions of charges are made, and those charges wait years to get to court,” Ms Butler said.

“Every statistic represents a person – a rape survivor – and every case delayed has a human impact.”

A record backlog of almost 60,000 crown court cases is already seeing trials scheduled into late 2024, and the situation is expected to be worsened significantly by a walkout on Tuesday that will bring most hearings to a halt in England and Wales.

The government has refused to negotiate with the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) through two months of escalating action over payments for representing people who cannot afford defence lawyers.

Ministry of Justice figures suggest that for every full working week that criminal barristers strike, around 1,300 cases, including 300 trials, will be disrupted.

Dominic Raab, the justice secretary, accused barristers of “holding justice to ransom” and has refused to negotiate on demands triggered by an official review of legal aid.

He has accused those on strike of “harming victims”, worsening delays and preventing them from getting the “justice they deserve”.

Ms Butler said that Rape Crisis services were seeing increased demands from victims waiting longer and longer for court cases to go ahead, and that “systemic change” was needed.

Barristers strikes: Criminal barrister says she sometimes earns minimum wage

“Many barristers have expressed to me how heavily the impact weighs on them in taking their strike action,” she wrote. “But the responsibility for this disaster of justice does not lie with them.

“They are boldly taking a stand to push for change and to ensure that the victims, and defendants, of the future have a justice system that is functioning and intact and effective.”

Ms Butler called for the government to engage with the CBA to resolve the strike “urgently” and to properly fund legal aid for the future.

The Ministry of Justice said it had fast-tracked a law increasing criminal legal aid payments by 15 per cent for new cases from 30 September, and that applying the rise to current cases would “cost a disproportionate amount of taxpayers’ money” and require a change to payment processes.

It said it had worked with Rape Crisis to develop a 24/7 support line and was piloting new processes to increase rape prosecutions and convictions.

A spokesperson added: “This government is investing a record £460m into victim support funding over the next three years and introducing a Victims’ Law to ensure they get the support they deserve.

“We had brought the pandemic-induced backlog down by around 2,000 cases, before strike action began to undermine this progress. The action comes despite the generous fee rise we are making that will see the typical criminal barrister earn £7,000 more a year.”

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