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Starting in April of 2022, hundreds of barristers adopted ‘no returns’ to push for the government to uplift rates by 25%. In June of 2022, this was extended to include court walkouts and the refusal of new instructions. In September of 2022, the CBA declared that it was to hold uninterrupted and indefinite ‘weeks of action’, leading to a potential standstill of the criminal justice system and simultaneously increasing the severity of the court backlogs. Thousands of hearings and trials had to be adjourned, as defendants turned up to court without a Legal Aid-funded barrister to represent them.
On October 10th 2022, the Criminal Bar Association voted to end its strike and accept a deal from the government of an additional £30 million on top of the 15% increase in criminal legal aid fees recommended by the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid. Solicitors’ fees increased by just 9% despite the review stating solicitors are in a worse situation and that a bare minimum 15% increase is needed to make businesses viable.
Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce stated that;
“Solicitors are the backbone of the crisis-hit criminal justice system. They will see that the government has found a magic money tree to stop the disruptive action of barristers – money that it claimed was not available to pay solicitors fairly. The justice minister may think he has got one problem off his table but there are bigger problems coming his way as this dispute continues. This is another example of a government U-turn making a bad situation worse. Our members will see that disruptive action achieves results that hard evidence and constructive engagement do not.”
There is a call for the funding gap to be bridged by the time the government publishes its full response to the independent review in November. Many legal professionals are proclaiming that this exodus of solicitors from the criminal defence profession will cause long-term problems and terminal damage to the criminal justice system.
With the end of the barrister strikes, the backlog of criminal cases in the Crown Courts of England and Wales reached a new record-high of more than 61,000. New figures show there were 61,212 cases in the justice system in August, after a rise of nearly 1,000 in a month and an overall hike of more than 3,000 since March this year. The courts are now routinely setting trials in 2024, with many defendants, witnesses, and alleged victims facing more than a year to wait for their case to be heard.
For legal professionals instructing experts within a criminal case, the representation order date must be noted to ensure an accurate quotation of services. If the date of the initial legal aid representation order is dated prior to the 30th September 2022, the old legal aid rates will apply. Anything post 30th September 2022 is subject to the new rates which vary across the different disciplines.
The end of the barrister strikes and the increase in funding will have many legal professionals viewing this as an overall success. However, the vote to suspend the strikes was only carried by a 57 per cent majority, leaving many barristers still disgruntled and carefully monitoring the government’s future management of Legal Aid budgets.
CYFOR welcomes the outcome of the strike as the 15% increase in legal aid fees applies not only to solicitors and barristers, the backbone of the criminal justice system, but also to external experts such as CYFOR, which provide critical support during investigations. Digital forensic experts have witnessed an increase in costs due to a rise in the volume and complexity of investigations, and investment in accreditations such as ISO 17025 that are improving the standards of the British criminal justice system. The agreement is a step in the right direction in improving the resilience of the sector and ensuring justice is delivered to the highest standards for citizens.
This is perhaps just the start of what are major changes within the criminal justice system.
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