Barrister blasts ‘broken’ criminal justice system in strike outside Manchester Crown Court

A barrister on strike outside a court in Manchester has said the government are responsible for what she described as a ‘broken’ criminal justice system.

Kirsty Brimelow QC said the walkouts were being staged as a ‘last resort’ in a dispute over legal aid funding. She added that pressure on barristers is ‘onerous’, particularly after the Covid pandemic with a backlog of cases now built up.

She was one of a group of barristers on the picket line outside Manchester Crown Court this morning on the first day of strike action. The walkouts will be held over several days over the coming weeks.

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As well as walking out, barristers will also refuse to accept new cases and to carry out ‘return work’– stepping in and picking up court hearings and other work for colleagues whose cases are overrunning. The Criminal Bar Association (CBA), which represents barristers in England and Wales, said around 81.5 per cent of more than 2,000 members who voted in the ballot supported walking out of court.

Of those who backed walkouts, most voted for the option of refusing new cases as well. In total, 43.5 per cent of all those balloted opted for this particular combination.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast outside court today, Ms Brimelow, the vice chair of the Criminal Bar Association which represents barristers in England and Wales, said: “This action has been taken after a democratic ballot and really as a last resort.

“Pressure on barristers is really onerous and everyone here knows about their code of conduct and their duties to the court and to their clients. Clients are consulted. Clients are support of this action.

“Those within the criminal justice system know how it functions and how broken it is. The issue is caused by the government, not by barristers.”

When asked why the proposed pay rise of 15 per cent was not enough, Ms Brimelow added: “If it was on the table, that might be the position. But the position it will only come into force in the Autumn, and then it will only apply to new cases, not the backlog cases which we’re all currently dealing with in the courts.

“The effect of the 15 per cent is that that increase will only come to barristers probably at the end of 2023, possibly the year after, possibly the year after that.”

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She added: “A working day for a junior barrister is ridiculous hours, the system has gone on goodwill for a very long time, including in the pandemic. In terms of the 15 per cent now that’s being offered, that’s following a recommendation from an independent review which was published in December 2021.

“That review said a minimum and that didn’t take into account that collapse of barrister’s earnings of 23 per cent which happened during the pandemic.

“If you think about it of earning about £100 per case, that can take around a day. You can be stuck on that case all day, I’m saying stuck on the case that means you’re in court, you can’t take other work.

“And so what’s being asked for is 25 per cent as a minimum, and that means an extra £25 for those hearings.”

Dominic Raab said the barrister strikes are ‘regrettable’ and will ‘only delay justice for victims’. In a statement released ahead of the first day of strikes, the Justice Secretary said: “It’s regrettable that the Criminal Bar Association is striking, given only 43.5 per cent of their members voted for this particular, most disruptive, option.

“I encourage them to agree the proposed 15 per cent pay rise which would see a typical barrister earn around £7,000 more a year. Their actions will only delay justice for victims.”

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