Criminal defense lawyers in England and Wales have voted overwhelmingly to take industrial action from next month to protest the level of legal aid funding.
In an April 11 Criminal Bar Association (CBA) vote, 94% of the votes were in favor of opposing repatriation – in which a lawyer steps in to represent a defendant whose original lawyer is unable to appear in court.
The move is likely to add to the already significant backlog in Crown Courts, which stood at 58,350 cases, according to figures released last month.
The CBA called the customary acceptance of returns “a goodwill gesture to shore up the criminal justice system.”
After the results of the vote – based on the votes of 1,908 members representing 2,400 criminal advocates – were released on Sunday night, CBA Chair Jo Sidhu QC and Vice Chair Kirsty Brimelow QC said the Government’s current timetable was presented no prospect of a new legal aid settlement by the end of September.
They said: “By our work and goodwill, we have maintained a chronically underfunded criminal justice system on behalf of the public while suffering severe losses in our real incomes and exhausted by the vastly increased demands placed on us, often for little or no no reward at all.
“We have already lost too many of our colleagues who can no longer afford to maintain their involvement in criminal work and who have left our ranks in desperation and desperation. We lose more every day… The sustainability and diversity of criminal justice is already at risk.”
The Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid, published in December, recommended a minimum increase of 15% of £35m for solicitors, which includes solicitors representing in the Crown Courts.
The Justice Department announced on Tuesday that it accepted the review’s recommendations and that it would result in additional spending of up to £135million each year on legal aid. The MoJ said criminal legal aid attorneys would get their biggest pay rise in a decade and 3.5 million more people would gain access to criminal legal aid in county courts. The CBA has argued that the review’s recommended increase for barristers is too low.
The CBA has raised concerns that the minimum increase recommended by the review is insufficient and that lawyers may not see any real increase in their legal aid revenues until 2024.
In a message to members, Sidhu and Brimelow said: “We will continue to work with the Department of Justice to find a fair and reasonable solution that reflects our members’ demands. With your overwhelming mandate, we will resolutely and resolutely continue these talks.”
A Justice Department spokesman said: “We are disappointed to see a vote on this course of action just days before we announce our plans to create a stable and sustainable legal aid sector going forward.
“We encourage CBA members to read our proposals in full and respond to the consultation, rather than being dragged into actions that harm victims of crime.”