23 April 2019

Anger erupts again at the criminal bar

CBA threaten strike action a year after it narrowly voted against action, when the then CBA chair said “The criminal bar is not going to be quiet.”

By Dr David Cowan


Criminal barristers in England and Wales are threatening to walk out of trials or refuse to take cases in their latest pay dispute with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The move is to be announced today with demands for an immediate pay rise.

“Beyond ridiculous,”

Prosecuting barristers are protesting the low fees paid by the CPS. The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) says the rates have not increased for 20 years. The action follows a recent CBA survey which revealed an overwhelming majority of prosecuting barristers who responded backed the principle of holding days of action, including walkouts, if agreement were not reached with the CPS in a month. In a comment to The Times, Chris Henley QC, chairman of the CBA, said “The criminal Bar has spoken with one voice. The current relationship with the CPS is broken.” He explained 95 per cent of his colleagues were prepared to “walk out or refuse to take cases if the director of public prosecutions refuses to fix it”. Mr Henley said that many barristers were refusing to work for the CPS. Mr Henley added, “You can spend a whole day at court presenting a serious and complex case for £46.50p or spend hours preparing a difficult sex case trial for £55. It is beyond ridiculous,” he added. The CBA survey had a 99 per cent response rate from about 2,500 prosecuting barristers.

“Anger and disillusionment”

According to a report in The Times, the CPS, which uses independent barristers in addition to its own staff, said it had begun a review and understood the desire for a speedy outcome, but stated “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.” Richard Atkins, QC, chairman 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.” Last year criminal barristers voted by a narrow margin to call off industrial action over fees, which has been disrupting court cases in England and Wales for some months. By a margin of 51.55 per cent to 48.45 per cent, CBA members accepted a £15m offer from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to raise payment rates for reading evidence and documents in trials. More than 3,000 barristers took part in the vote. At the time, Angela Rafferty QC, then chair of the CBA, said “While the majority wishes to accept the proposal, it cannot be said that the anger and disillusionment has gone away. Indeed, it is exceptionally strong. The criminal bar is not going to be quiet.” The noise has erupted once more.

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