In reaction to underfunding arising from the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme, the Criminal Bar Association has lead strike action amongst barristers. 55% of its 4,000 members voted 90% in favour of industrial action.
As a result, barristers are now refusing to take on legally aided cases, including serious criminal matters in the Crown court. Cases are already being affected, and a defendant on appearing in court under murder charge was denied any representation by counsel.
Kema Salum appeared at the Old Bailey on Friday 30 March 2018 in relation to a murder allegation. His solicitor, Seona White, of BSB Solicitors, had been unable to secure representation from over 20 different chambers. Kema was not represented in court, and was remanded in custody with a plea hearing set for June 20 and provisional trial date of 24 September.
Until a barrister can take on the case however, his legal advice and case preparation is likely to be severely affected.
The MoJ has issued the following statement in relation to the strike action;
“Any action to disrupt the courts is unacceptable and we are taking all necessary steps to ensure legal representation is available for defendants in criminal cases. We greatly value the work of criminal advocates and will continue to engage with the bar over their concerns regarding the AGFS scheme. Our reforms replace an archaic scheme under which barristers billed by pages of evidence. Under the new scheme, a murder case would result in a 16% uplift in fees for advocates.”
Meanwhile striking barristers, and their underlying concerns regarding legal cuts, have garnered interest online. The hashtag #TheLawIsBroken has been trending in response to a campaign to give every MP a copy of the @SecretBarristers book ‘Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken‘
An early day motion tabled by Jeremy Corbyn to scarp the changes to barrister fees now has over 90 signatures, and is likely to be debated in Parliament.