Lawyers in England and Wales are on strike over legal aid fees

Lawyers in England and Wales are on strike over legal aid fees

Lawyers specializing in criminal cases in England and Wales will start a strike on Monday due to, as they claim, inadequate state funding for their work, which is a move that is expected to disrupt trials.

The industrial action of self-employed lawyers representing defendants in trials comes at a crucial time for the government: it is already fighting railway workers ’strikes and is ready to leave public sector staff.

Ministers are also working to address the backlog of trial in the Crown Courts, which has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic: it rose from 40,000 in March 2020 to 58,271 in April 2022.

The Criminal Bar Association, which represents 2,400 lawyers, organized the vote on industrial action because those who deal with defense affairs are angry at the government’s reform of the fees for legal aid that are paid to them. The days of the strike will be spread over the next four weeks.

Sir Christopher Bellamy, a former judge, concluded last December in a report commissioned by the government that the criminal justice system needed an additional £ 135 million a year to stop the exodus of junior legal aid lawyers, who earn just £ 12,200 a year.

The government plans to increase legal aid fees by 15 per cent from October and says a typical criminal lawyer will receive an additional £ 7,000 a year.

However, the Criminal Bar Association says more money is needed, in part because legal aid fees have not kept pace with inflation for years.

Dominic Bell, 56, a 30-year-old lawyer, was one of those who joined Monday’s protest in front of Old Bailey in London. Other demonstrations are expected in Bristol, Cardiff, Manchester and Leeds.

Bell said he “never knew such rage at a crime bar,” adding, “We’re losing people. When I came to the profession, it was a reasonably paid job, but the fees were abolished and reduced. ”

Nick Worsley, 46, a Leeds lawyer with more than 20 years, will also leave. “The government keeps saying we have one of the best legal systems in the world, but it is collapsing and dying on its feet,” he said.

Dominic Raab, the secretary of justice, said: “It is unfortunate that the Crime Bar is on strike, as only 43.5 per cent of their members voted for this particular option, which is the most disturbing.

“I encourage them to agree on the proposed 15 percent salary increase, which would earn a typical lawyer about 7,000 pounds more a year. Their actions will only delay justice for the victims. “

The judiciary has said it will not enter the dispute. However, Ian Burnett, Lord Chief Justice for England and Wales, said in an internal note to the judges that if lawyers do not attend scheduled court hearings after accepting instructions from the client, “this may constitute professional misconduct”.

That angered the lawyers. More than 70 of the Queen’s lawyers, some of the most experienced crime lawyers, came forward letter for The Times newspaper that Burnett’s leadership is seen as “an attempt to intimidate us”.

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