UK's criminal trial lawyers vote to strike indefinitely over fees

From Sept 5 the lawyers will begin the open-ended strike. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Britain's criminal trial lawyers voted overwhelmingly in favour of indefinite strike action in the latest salvo with the government over funding and fees.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA), which represents thousands of barristers in England and Wales, said around 80 per cent of its members backed escalation of industrial action that has run since the end of June.

From Sept 5 the lawyers will begin the open-ended strike until the government improves on its 15 per cent fee increase offer.

“This is an irresponsible decision that will only see more victims face further delays and distress,” Justice Minister Sarah Dines, said.

The backlog of criminal trials in England and Wales stands at about 59,000, according to government data – just under the coronavirus pandemic peak of 61,000.

It's the latest setback for the incoming prime minister who will have to face up to a growing list of problems from a cost-of-living-crisis to a discontented workforce striking over pay.

This week thousands of dockers at the country's busiest container port, Felixstowe, walked out in a pay dispute while train companies and network operators have caused travel chaos in a series of walkouts over the summer.

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$20,110) a year - below minimum wage, the CBA said.

Legal aid is means-tested government funding available to defendants to help pay for their case and lawyers. Thousands of criminal court hearings have already been disrupted as a result of the action.

The Ministry of Justice previously argued that the 15 per cent hike in fees would mean the average criminal lawyer will earn £7,000 more a year. The CBA rejected that offer on the basis it didn't apply to existing cases or start immediately.

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