Criminal barristers in England and Wales are taking indefinite, uninterrupted strike action from Monday 5 September in a dispute over Legal Aid rates.
The action is an escalation of the staged intermittent walkouts since the end of June, escalating to week-long strikes on alternate weeks throughout August.
According to the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), which represents over 2,400 barristers, the profession is facing a crisis due to high numbers of criminal advocates leaving for different careers due to poor pay.
Criminal barristers are imposing a “no-returns” policy, refusing to step in at short notice to work on cases passed to them by other barristers whose cases are over-running.
The action is expected to add further pressure to the criminal justice system with existing court delays and which has yet to recover from the effects of the pandemic, when court closures and COVID restrictions resulted in fewer trials taking place and a significant reduction in work for criminal barristers.
According to the CBA, the number of specialist criminal barristers has shrunk by 25% in the past five years.
It also cited a 28% drop in real incomes over the past 20 years for criminal defence barristers as driving barristers out of the profession.
The fall in real wages comes after 83% of criminal barristers said they took on personal debt or used savings during the pandemic.
Legal Aid rates and funding remains an unresolved issue between the profession and the UK Government. Criminal barristers pursued similar action in 2014, and again threatened action in 2017, which the government averted through specific concessions. adopted a no-returns policy in 2014 over pay and threatened more action three years later, which the Government headed off with concessions.
The association said that its members would strike unless the Government increased the criminal legal aid budget by at least 25 per cent.
In March, justice secretary Dominic Raab pledged an extra £135 million for the criminal legal aid budget, which equates to a 15% rise.