Criminal barristers threaten to strike over low pay

Criminal barristers are threatening to walk out of trials or refuse to take on new work because of a dispute over pay with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). 

Apr 23, 2019
By Tony Thompson

Barristers can be paid as little as £46.50 for a day’s work preparing a complex court case – meaning they effectively earn less than the minimum wage. According to the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), rates of pay have not increased in 20 years.  

A recent poll by the CBA found 95 per cent of its members would be prepared take direct action to secure better pay, and the first walkouts could begin within weeks. 

The survey found that 99.3 per cent of those polled felt the pay for prosecuting criminal cases failed to reflect the demands, skill and responsibility the work involves. Eight in ten said they did not feel valued by the CPS. 

CBA chair Chris Henley QC said: “The criminal bar has spoken with one voice – 95 per cent are prepared to walk out or refuse to take on cases if the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) refuses to fix it. There has been no investment for 20 years, nothing, it is unsustainable to carry on like this. 

“The public would be appalled if they knew how bad things have become; change is needed immediately. These astonishing responses from frontline prosecutors, from the most experienced QCs to the most junior barristers in the early stages of their careers, show how broken our criminal justice system has become.” 

He added: “Police forces have been denied the resources they need and now can’t cope with soaring serious crime rates. The Crown Prosecution Service has been battered by savage cuts to its budget and lacks the capacity to deal with increasing numbers of complex cases.” 

The Government announced £15 million of extra funding for criminal defence barristers’ trial fees last year after they refused to take on new work for several weeks. 

A CPS spokesperson said: “We understand that the self-employed bar do have an important role in the criminal justice system and are working with them to make sure we have simple, fair, affordable and sustainable prosecution fee schemes for the future. 

“We have already begun our review and understand the wish for this to be agreed quickly. 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. We are committed to getting this right and will keep the profession updated throughout the process.” 

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