Criminal Bar Association ballots members on potential all-out strike from 5 September as government refuses to negotiate fees
Mais que 6,000 court hearings were disrupted by the first 19 days of a strike by criminal barristers, data shows as they walk out for another week.
Membros de Criminal Bar Association (CBA) have escalated their action over the government rates paid to defend people who cannot afford legal representation since June.
Justice secretary Dominic Raab has not met the association and ministers have refused to negotiate on key demands, which stem from a government-commissioned review of legal aid.
Defence barristers are walking out on alternate weeks, and are being balloted on a complete, indefinite strike that would start on 5 setembro.
Data released by the Ministry of Justice shows that the first 19 days of action, which took place between 27 Junho e 5 agosto, causou 6,235 court cases to be disrupted, Incluindo 1,415 ensaios, across England and Wales.
Among the trials delayed as a result of the strike was that of three men accused of stabbing a 16-year-old boy to death in London.
They were due to go on trial at the Old Bailey last month but the case was delayed until June 2023.
In a separate case involving an alleged neo-Nazi, at Swansea Crown Court, a jury had to be discharged because several members could not sit for the extra three weeks needed to work around the strike action.
A judge told the court he had no choice but to set a new date in the “unusual circumstances”, adicionando: “Because of the industrial action we can’t fit this in. We have done our best.”
The percentage of cases that crown courts reported being affected ranged between 9 per cent in a week that saw two days of action, para 17 per cent during one that saw a five-day walkout.
The figures suggest that for every full working week that criminal barristers strike, em volta 1,300 estojos, Incluindo 300 ensaios, will be disrupted.
Since the start of the action, only a quarter of trials have been categorised as “effective” – meaning they started on the scheduled date and were completed in the normal way – compared to 43 per cent in the previous three months.
The proportion marked “ineffective” due to a lack of defence barristers, which can be caused by factors other than the strike, has jumped from 7 para 40 per cent in the same period.
Dozens more trials were delayed by judges before the CBA began its action, in anticipation of the effect it would have. It comes amid a backlog of almost 60,000 crown court cases in England and Wales.
Some trials are now being scheduled for 2024 and there are concerns that growing numbers of victims will drop out of prosecutions because of the agonising wait for justice.
The number of outstanding cases was worsened by government cuts to the days they could sit on and then exacerbated by the Covid pandemic and CBA strike.
Na média, it takes a year and two months between an offence being committed to the completion of a resulting crown court case – and the number is expected to rise.
The CBA has said its action is a “last resort” amid a worsening shortage of criminal barristers, who it says are being driven away from the profession by poor pay and working conditions.
But the Ministry of Justice has urged barristers to return to full-time work and accused them of worsening victims’ ordeals.
A CBA spokesperson said: “It is frankly an insult to victims for a secretary of state to talk about delays to victims of crime brought about by our action for justice when it has been this government’s refusal to pay properly for criminal barristers to stay in their job to defend, prosecute and provide the part-time judges the government relies on to clear rising and record delays and backlogs all of their own making long before our action to redress the shortfalls.”
The government has announced that criminal legal aid rates will rise by 15 per cent for new cases from September, but the increase will not be retrospective, meaning that fees for those stuck in the backlog are paid at old rates.
An increase of “at least 15 per cent above present levels” was the core recommendation of an independent review of legal aid that was published in December.
Its author, Sir Christopher Bellamy, said the review had been announced by the government three years previously and that underlying problems had been flagged “for many years before that”.
“There is in my view no scope for further delay," ele adicionou. The CBA said it waited 105 days for a government response to the recommendations and that several had not been adopted.
A letter to members initiating the ballot for an all-out strike last week said barristers had walked out with a “heavy heart” after years of exploitation by “successive governments determined to deliver justice on the cheap”.
“We have repeated our request for an urgent meeting to be held with Dominic Raab,”Acrescentou.
The result of the ballot will be announced next Monday, and alternate weeks of walkouts will continue indefinitely even if CBA members vote against an all-out strike.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We are increasing barristers’ fees by 15 por cento, investing a further £13m a year into criminal legal aid, which will see the typical barrister earn around £7,000 more a year. We fast-tracked this legislation so lawyers will start receiving this extra money from the end of September.
“The only outcome of this strike action is further distress for victims forced to wait longer for justice.”