Striking barristers ‘feel horrible’ about delaying court cases but ‘don’t see any other option’

A senior barrister in Yorkshire said his colleagues “feel horrible” about going on strike and leaving victims and their families to wait longer for justice, but they “don’t see any other option”.

Chris Moran, who has been a barrister for 15 years, spoke out during a demonstration outside Leeds Crown Court, after members of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) began an indefinite, all-out strike on Monday.

Similar protests have been taking place outside courts across the country and the strike is expected to exacerbate the backlog of outstanding court cases, which reached a record high of 60,000 earlier this year.

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The barristers are demanding a 25 per cent rise in legal aid fees for representing defendants who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer. They have already rejected the Government’s offer of a 15 per cent increase, as it would not kick in immediately or apply to existing cases.

Barristers on strike outside Leeds Crown CourtBarristers on strike outside Leeds Crown Court
Barristers on strike outside Leeds Crown Court

Mr Moran, of Park Square Barristers in Leeds, said the hourly earnings of criminal barristers who take on legal aid cases are often below the minimum wage.

This has led to a “recruitment and retention crisis” and there are now “nowhere near enough barristers to deal with cases coming through the system”, he added.

According to the CBA, the number of specialist criminal barristers has fallen by around 25 per cent over the last five years, to 2,400, and 300 of them quit last year.

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It also said more than 1,000 trials were postponed across the country, because there were not enough barristers available, in the year up to March 2022.

Mr Moran said: “We feel horrible about it. This is something that we do not want to do, but we have reached a point of no return.

“We have tried everything to get the Government to listen and fix the system. This is the last thing we can do.

“Complainants, defendants and witnesses are all going to have to wait longer, because of what we’re doing, we can’t get around that, but we don’t see any other option.

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“The system needs to survive for future complainants, defendants and witnesses. Unless we do this, it’s not going to be able to carry on.”

Kirsty Brimelow, chairman of the CBA, said: “Government policies on toughness on crime and supporting victims are meaningless without the required proper investment in criminal barristers who deliver the justice.

"Criminal barristers have stopped soldiering on through downtrodden criminal courts.

"They have stopped watching vulnerable people bounced into trials in 2024 with hands clasped in prayer that there will be anyone left to prosecute and defend.”

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She is urging the Government to come back with a new offer to increase legal aid.

Justice Minister Sarah Dines has described the strike as “irresponsible” and said it will leave victims and their families to face further delays and distress.

She added: “The escalation of strike action is wholly unjustified considering we are increasing criminal barristers’ fees by 15 per cent, which will see the typical barrister earn around £7,000 more a year.”