The Criminal Bar Association (CBA)’s ballot saw 94 per cent of votes in favour of refusing to accept returns from 11 April. This is when a barrister steps in to represent a defendant whose original barrister is unable to attend court.
Of the CBA’s 2,400 members, 1,908 voted in the ballot with 94.34 per cent in favour of industrial action.
However, a strike could cause havoc for the substantial ‘Covid’ backlog in the crown courts, with more than 60,000 cases still waiting to be heard in England and Wales.
After the ballot results, the CBA said the existing government timetable “brought no prospect of a new legal aid settlement until the end of September”.
CBA chairman Jo Sidhu QC, said: “Through our labour and our goodwill, we have sustained a chronically underfunded criminal justice system on behalf of the public while suffering substantial reductions in our real incomes and exhausted by the hugely increased demands placed upon us, often for little or no reward.
“We have already lost too many of our colleagues who can no longer afford to maintain their commitment to criminal work and who have left our ranks out of desperation and despair. Every day we are losing more … The future viability and diversity of the criminal bar is already imperilled.”
The Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid recommended a minimum increase of 15 per cent, amounting to £35m, for advocates, which also includes solicitors advocating in the crown courts.
The Ministry of Justice announced on Tuesday that it was accepting the recommendations of the review and that it would result in up to £135m extra spent on legal aid every year.
The CBA says the minimum increase recommended by the review is insufficient as barristers would not see any real increase in their legal aid fee income until 2024.