Criminal barristers strike: a Manchester lawyer’s view as 15% fees offer tabled

Nina Grahame KC, who led the months of industrial action on the northern circuit, says it is now up to the Government to work with the industry to fix the problems in the criminal justice system.
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A top Manchester lawyer has spoken after criminal barristers voted to bring to an end weeks of all-out strike action and return to work.

Nina Grahame QC had been leading the months of industrial action on the northern circuit as criminal barristers walked out in fury at low pay and the state of the criminal justice system.

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Members of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) have now voted to suspend the strikes and go back into the courtroom after an offer from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) which included a 15% fees increase was accepted in a ballot.

However, Ms Grahame said industrial action would return in future if the Government did not seriously engage with the problems in the justice system.

What has been agreed to end the industrial action?

The CBA members are returning to work after the MoJ agreed a 15% fees increase which will be paid to barristers working on existing cases within the huge backlog of trials waiting to come to the crown courts as well as new ones.

A 15% increase in fees was the minimum recommendation from an independent review carried out which ministers’ refusal to implement sparked fury among criminal lawyers.

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Barristers protest outside Manchester Crown Court on June 27, 2022 (Pic: Getty Images)Barristers protest outside Manchester Crown Court on June 27, 2022 (Pic: Getty Images)
Barristers protest outside Manchester Crown Court on June 27, 2022 (Pic: Getty Images)

Barristers will also receive money for preparation and written work and for carrying out pre-recorded video examinations of vulnerable victims and witnesses.

In addition an advisory panel is being set up to propose further recommendations and improvements to the criminal justice system for both victims of crime and legal professionals.

The MoJ has also proposed a fees increase for lawyers working in youth courts which would be introduced in the 2024-25 financial year.

What has been said in Manchester about the end of the industrial action?

During the long period of industrial action barristers vented fury at Government ministers for refusing to seriously engage with them over their concerns about poor pay, lawyers leaving criminal work because they could not make ends meet and the huge backlog of trials.

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Ms Grahame said that it is now up to the Government to show it can work constructively with the sector to make changes.

And she warned that if relations once again break down lawyers would not hesitate to return to the walk-outs.

Ms Grahame said: “We are willing to suspend the action but it is suspended, not ended. We are trying to show good will and a commitment to moving forward but we do not accept this as a final settlement. It’s the beginning of a process.

“We want to work, we want to make the criminal justice system work, and we have agreed to go back to work for the minimum that was recommended with a view to continuing to improve the situation.

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“We have still lost 40% of barristers in the last five years and 25% of our most junior practitioners in the last year. We still have to work hard to persuade young people and specialists already practising that it’s worth joining or continuing to stay in this specialised area of the profession.

“We are at a cliff edge here. It’s the Government’s responsibility now to make sure we can pull back from it rather than fall over it.

“It’s their responsibility to negotiate with us through this new body to properly implement the recommendations of the report and secure the future of the profession. It’s over to them.”

What did Ms Grahame say about the strike action?

Ms Grahame also reflected on what the weeks of all-out strike action, the culmination of months of escalation in the dispute with the MoJ, had achieved and meant for a profession very unused to downing tools.

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She said: “I think the only word to describe what has happened is extraordinary. It has brought together a profession of self-employed people who don’t have a union to co-ordinate for us and are in a traditional profession.

“They are so disillusioned and worried about the future that they have come out in force. It’s unprecedented. We have never seen anything like it.

“Junior barristers who are already terribly paid have made a large sacrifice and received no payments because they have been standing outside court and refusing to go in.

“Some of them were only earning £12,000 a year and during this they have earned even less. We have set up hardship funds to support them but they were prepared to take this action even though it reduced their income even further. It’s a brave thing to do.

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“Courts have been like mausoleums, almost completely empty. Many courtrooms have been closed for most of the day during this. Court lists have reflected this, with very few hearings and trials taking place.

“It just shows the strength of feeling and how concerned people are for the future.”

What has the Government said?

Announcing the MoJ’s offer to the CBA members before the ballot which ultimately accepted the package, justice secretary Brandon Lewis said: “I greatly value the criminal bar and solicitors and the work they do every day in our Crown and Magistrates Courts. They are crucial to reducing the backlog.

“My priority in these discussions has been to ensure that victims aren’t forced to wait longer to see justice done.”

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