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Legal aid ‘walkouts’ to start next week

A ballot has confirmed that action will be escalated over the government’s refusal to meet legal aid demands.

Back in April, barristers decided they would not take on returned cases after the government refused to increase their fees by 25 per cent.

They were balloted on escalating industrial action over legal aid rates as figures reveal the number of crown court cases adjourned because of a shortage of lawyers has increased nearly fivefold over the decade.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) balloted more than 2,400 criminal barristers in England and Wales on options for action.

Today, the CBA has announced that the majority of members have voted for the highest form of escalation: court walkouts and refusing to accept new instructions, as well as no returns.

The action is likely to increase the backlog of 58,271 cases in the crown courts.

CBA chair Jo Sidhu QC and vice-president Kirsty Brimelow QC said: “This second ballot has reaffirmed our reputation as an open and democratic association. Our members have always respected the outcome of a free and fair voting process, whatever the result. We will therefore be faithful to the ballot. We will therefore be faithful to the ballot. Our unity is our strength.”

The first walkout will begin next Monday.

Participating barristers are encouraged to attend the Old Baily or Crown courts in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol and Cardiff from 10am to show their support.

Days of action will escalate each week, culminating in a five-day walkout on the week commencing July 18. The action will then be suspended for a week before resuming on August 1, with a five-day walkout. Barristers would walk out every other week subject to a satisfactory response from the government.

On Friday afternoon, justice minister James Cartlidge said the government would be laying  secondary legislation that would increase criminal legal aid fees by the end of September.

However, Sidhu said they had made repeated efforts to persuade government to at least honour the basic recommendations of the criminal legal aid review to increase AGFS fees by a minimum of 15% without delay rather than force them to wait until October.

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