Trial lawyers walk out across Britain over government funding

The lawyers are taking action against repeated budget cuts and a record backlog of court cases. PHOTO: PEXELS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Britain's criminal trial lawyers will strike across the country on Monday (June 27) in a long-running spat over government funding and fees that have collapsed in recent years. It is the latest sector to show its unhappiness with the British government over a range of issues from pay to working conditions.

Around 40,000 railway staff walked out last week in the largest rail strike in three decades. Teachers and National Health Service staff are also considering industrial action against a backdrop of rising inflation and low pay rises.

The Criminal Bar Association, which represents thousands of barristers in England and Wales, said around 80 per cent of its members backed the walkout that'll target 14 days of strike action over the next month.

Legal aid is means-tested government funding available to defendants to help pay for their case and lawyers. 

A large group of barristers and supporters gathered outside Old Bailey – the country’s most famous criminal court – on Monday to stand in protest against low pay and poor conditions.

“We may wear a uniform but we’re not a privileged species, we’re the poor cousins of the justice system,” Mr Jo Sidhu, barrister and chair of the criminal bar association, said in a speech outside the court flanked by barristers in powdered horse-hair wigs and gowns.

Among the speakers at the strike was young barrister Alejandra Tascon who said that her and many people like her were already in hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of debt trying to get into the profession. 

“We cannot survive on below minimum wage,” she said. “If we can’t recruit, the rule of law will die.”

The lawyers are taking the action against repeated government cuts of the legal aid budget and a record backlog of court cases.

Pay for criminal barristers has also fallen and many of them are being forced to leave the profession. They are demanding a 15 per cent increase in fees.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said the strikes were "regrettable" and that "their actions will only delay justice for victims".

During the strikes, barristers said they won't accept new cases.

Earnings from legal aid fell by 23 per cent in one year over the coronavirus pandemic with over 80 per cent of their members forced into personal debt with government support, according to the union.

Junior barristers earn a median income of £12,220 (S$20,800) a year - below minimum wage, they said.

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