Justice Secretary Dominic Raab has accused striking barristers of “holding justice to ransom,” after it emerged he was on holiday when an all-out strike ballot was taken.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the Government of doing “absolutely nothing” to resolve disputes, before Mr Raab criticised the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) for launching industrial action.
“As Justice Secretary, I hear time and again that all victims truly want is the justice they deserve. My message to the CBA is simple,” he wrote in the Daily Mail on Tuesday.
“We are increasing your pay. Now your actions are only harming victims, increasing the court backlog, and hampering our efforts to make our streets safer.
“The criminal justice system deserves better.”
Members of the CBA were balloted on Sunday night on whether to escalate ongoing industrial action with an indefinite, uninterrupted strike that would start in England and Wales on September 5.
Mr Raab is on leave with his family in Surrey until Thursday and has not met the CBA since members embarked on industrial action in April, but junior ministers have met the group regularly.
The continuous strike effectively begins next week because the action is ongoing.
Friday will be the last working day for barristers before they walk out again on Tuesday August 30.
The former foreign secretary came under fire in August last year for being on holiday in Crete during the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul.
Mr Starmer, the former director of public prosecutions, told reporters in Walthamstow, east London, on Monday: “I quite understand, whether it’s barristers or others, why people and how people are struggling to make ends meet,” adding: “I want to see the Government step in and actually help resolve these issues; instead of that we’ve got a Government doing absolutely nothing.”
The CBA said 2,273 barristers cast a vote in the ballot which closed on Sunday, exceeding numbers taking part in polls in March (1,908) and June (2,055).
In the latest ballot, almost 80% (1,808) voted in favour of escalating the action while 11% (258) wanted to continue current action and 9% (207) called for an end to strikes.
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According to MoJ figures, more than 6,000 court hearings have been disrupted as a result of the dispute over conditions and Government-set fees for legal aid advocacy work.
Criminal barristers are due to receive a 15% fee rise from the end of September, meaning they will earn £7,000 more per year.
But there has been anger that the proposed pay rise will not be made effective immediately and will only apply to new cases, not those already sitting in the backlog waiting to be dealt with by courts.