Express & Star

Hundreds of criminal cases to be postponed as 'angry and upset' barristers strike

Hundreds of criminal cases due to be heard at courts in the Midlands will be postponed in the coming weeks as barristers strike over pay and working conditions.

The strike action is intended to last for four weeks, beginning with walkouts on Monday June 27 and Tuesday June 28, increasing by one day each week until a five-day strike from Monday July 18 to Friday July 22. Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Barristers walked out of courts yesterday in a dispute over legal aid funding, with a picket line forming outside Birmingham Crown Court during the morning.

The strikes are intended to span four weeks, with a walkout also taking place today and increasing by one day each week until a five-day strike from July 18 to 22.

Leading West Midlands QC Michelle Heeley said it would lead to hundreds of criminal cases being postponed in the Midlands – including at crown courts in Wolverhampton, Stafford and Birmingham.

However she said barristers, who during the strikes will not accept new cases or take on work for colleagues, felt the action was necessary and that real change was needed.

Ms Heeley QC, who is leader of the Midland circuit of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), which balloted on the action, said: "The feeling is of anger and upset. It goes against what we all believe in to walk out of court but they think if they don't take action now nothing will change.

"There's been huge underinvestment in the criminal justice system for more than a decade. So many barristers have left.

"This is serious. We are not going to have enough barristers to prosecute and defend the most serious cases."

Criminal barristers from the Criminal Bar Association outside Birmingham Crown Court. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

She said the strike action would have led to dozens of criminal cases being postponed in the Midlands yesterday and it will likely add up to hundreds over the coming weeks.

A spokeswoman for Birmingham Crown Court confirmed the strike action had led to some cases being postponed yesterday, but did not disclose how many.

Stafford Crown Court declined to comment on the issue, while Wolverhampton Crown Court has not yet responded to a request for comment from the Express & Star.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said the strikes were "regrettable" and would "only delay justice for victims".

In a statement released on the first day of action, he urged barristers "to agree the proposed 15 per cent pay rise which would see a typical barrister earn around £7,000 more a year".

However, barristers say that any increase in pay would not be seen until the end of 2023 "at the earliest" as it would not apply to backlogged cases.

Meanwhile a group of barristers have gathered outside the Old Bailey as part of the strikes. Around 50, many in their gowns and wigs, stood close to the court entrance, where a sign was held up listing their demands.

It read: “Raabed of justice. Pay for criminal bar daylight robbery.”

Those there spoke of the need for a pay increase amid long working hours. One criticised the “unacceptable” pay and working conditions for those in the legal system.

Lucie Wibberley, a barrister and secretary of the Criminal Bar Association, speaking outside the Old Bailey, said: “We’re here to protest against the unacceptable pay and working conditions those working in the justice system are currently facing.

“Action will take place in the hope the Government comes to the negotiating table.”

Barristers are the “poor persons” of the legal system, the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association has said. Jo Sidhu QC, speaking outside the Old Bailey said: “Last year, we lost another 300 criminal barristers, why? Because they could not do this job anymore on what they were being paid, and for the hours that they were toiling.”

He went on: “We are not a privileged species, we are the poor persons of the justice system.

“Each and every one of the men and women standing here today and across this country make a decision that they would like to serve the public, as a prosecutor, as a defendant in order to deliver justice.”

Crown courts across the country have been hit by the strike. Photo: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

Other crown courts affected included Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Manchester and Swansea.

Speaking outside Manchester Crown Court, Kirsty Brimelow, vice chair of The Criminal Bar Association, said: “The Criminal Bar Association has repeatedly warned the Government that the huge decline in real incomes at the criminal bar poses the most serious threat to the British legal system in decades.

“We have made our case over and over again to Government but our warnings continue to fall on deaf ears. They have no solution to saving the criminal justice system. This is a national crisis which is of Government making and it must be dealt with as a national emergency.

“We cannot allow further attacks on our profession when we know the reality of the crumbling courts and junior barristers who walked away long before this action.

“We take this action in the name of citizens of this country because it is their justice system that we are determined to protect. We will not sit idly by and watch its destruction.

“We are doing what we have been trained to do which is to fight for justice.”

A group of barristers have gathered outside Bristol Crown Court as part of strikes over pay and working conditions. Around two dozen, many in their gowns and wigs, stood close to the court entrance.

Barrister Kannan Siva described the strike as a “momentous day” and accused the Government of “abandoning” the criminal justice system.