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Criminal barristers launch fresh strikes over years of austerity pay

CRIMINAL barristers started a second week of strikes today, vowing to continue their industrial action against years of austerity pay into August.

Court cases across England and Wales faced more disruption as the lawyers withdrew their labour and held rallies in several locations, including outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London and crown courts in Liverpool and Birmingham. 

The industrial action comes after members of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) rejected an offer from Tory ministers of a 15 per cent pay rise, saying that it would not apply immediately or cover existing cases.

The government condemned the strikes for exacerbating a long-term backlog of 58,000 cases, but the association argued that a shortage of barristers is the root cause, with a massive 28 per cent cut in legal aid fees coinciding with a quarter of them quitting over the last five years.

It demanded a 25 per cent salary increase for those representing legal aid clients – people who could not otherwise afford lawyers.

There is a desperate need for such a rise as some junior barristers earn less than the hourly minimum wage, the CBA charged.

The industrial action is set to escalate, wit this week’s three-day walkout being followed by a four-day strike next week, then five days from July 18. From August, barristers will walk out on alternate weeks.

“There are simply too few criminal justice barristers to prosecute, to defend and even to provide the judges the government relies on to crack a record backlog and ensure victims of crime and the accused are not left in agonising limbo,” said a CBA spokesperson.

Association chairman Jo Sidhu said the system had been “grinding to a halt for a number of years because the government has simply mismanaged the system and underfunded it considerably.”

More than 1,000 criminal trials were postponed at the last moment in the year to March because there was no prosecuting or defence barrister available, according to CBA analysis of government figures.

Warning of a “crisis,” London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association president Hashem Puri told the BBC: “Large numbers of barristers and criminal solicitors are leaving the profession because of the low pay.”

The government claimed that, before expenses, average earnings for criminal barristers in 2019-20 were £79,800, but it conceded that junior barristers often earn far less.

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