Barristers in England and Wales vote to end strike action after accepting government pay offer

Barristers had been striking over a row with the government on fees and work conditions. Credit: PA

Criminal barristers in England and Wales have voted to end strike action after accepting a government pay offer.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) announced the results of the ballot on Monday after members voted last week.

In a statement on Twitter, the body said: “The Criminal Bar has voted to accept the proposal made by the Government.

“With 57% voting to accept the offer made by Government, action is suspended from 18.00hrs this evening.”

The vote came after the CBA held talks with Justice Secretary Brandon Lewis and he proposed further reforms to government-set fees for legal aid advocacy work.

The offer represents “further investment of £54 million in the criminal bar and solicitors”, according to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

Barristers will be able to accept new instructions on cases from 6pm, when the strike action ends, and will be back in court from Tuesday.

Mr Lewis said: “My priority in these first few weeks as Lord Chancellor has been to end CBA strike action and reduce delays for victims, and I’m glad that barristers have now agreed to return to work.

“This breakthrough is a result of coming together and restarting what I hope to be a constructive relationship as we work to drive down the backlog and ensure victims see justice done sooner.”

Some 2,605 criminal barristers took part in the ballot, which asked if they accepted the government’s offer and voted to suspend action, with 1,488 (56.74%) voting yes and 1,117 (43.26%) voting no, the CBA said.

The body added: “The Criminal Bar Association has a long history of respecting and unifying around the majority vote.

“The criminal justice system remains chronically underfunded.

“As a democratic organisation, we take our mandate from you. Your engagement has been overwhelming and we know that you remain committed to achieve a strong, sustainable, independent criminal bar for the future.”

Barristers had been taking part in a continuous walkout after a row with the government over fees and conditions intensified.

Prior to that, they were striking on alternate weeks and refused to carry out certain types of work.

There had been anger that a planned 15% fee rise barristers were due to receive from the end of September - meaning they will earn £7,000 more per year - would only apply to new cases and not those already sitting in a backlog waiting to be dealt with by the courts.

But now the MoJ has said the fee increase will apply to the “vast majority of cases currently in the crown court” as well as provide a pay rise for solicitors, with further measures due to be announced in the coming weeks.

This is despite the department previously saying it had “repeatedly explained” to the CBA that backdating pay would require a “fundamental change” in how fees are paid, adding: “That reform would cost a disproportionate amount of taxpayers’ money and would take longer to implement, meaning barristers would have to wait longer for payment.”

It is understood the move requires changes to the digital system used by the Legal Aid Agency to make payments and, while officials are confident there is a solution available, they fear it may be difficult and expensive.

The pay offer came after High Court judges ruled that delays to criminal trials affected by the ongoing strike may not be a good enough reason to keep defendants in custody on remand if the dispute continued beyond the end of November.

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