Warning over court walk-outs amid rising pressures on West Midlands lawyers

Criminal barristers could take serious action including court walk-outs over concern at pressure on lawyers, a leading West Midlands QC has warned.

Michelle Heeley QC
Michelle Heeley QC

Michelle Heeley QC, leader of the Midlands Circuit and a barrister at No5 Barristers’ Chambers, Birmingham, said the the Government had not implemented changes outlined in Sir Christopher Bellamy’s independent report, so it was not surprising to see barristers looking at taking further action.

“If barristers choose to vote for additional measures, we can expect to see walk-outs from court and refusals of new defence instructions, resulting in those being prosecuted not having someone to consult or defend them when in court.

“One of the key reasons behind the ballot is to help protect junior criminal barristers, who take home around £12,000 per year after paying for general work expenses that are not reimbursed. It’s important to note that the same barristers are working long hours under immense pressure from very serious, harrowing cases.

"Unfortunately, many young barristers are choosing to leave the profession for more lucrative sectors due to this challenging work-life balance," she explained.

She warned that as the older generations leave the sector, there would only be a limited pool of barristers who have the appropriate experience and are able to help the public achieve justice.

"If changes are not made to the way junior criminal barristers work, there could be long-term consequences for the UK public, who will not be able to access a fair justice system. One of the aims of the ballot is to ensure junior criminal barristers are better protected and have the capacity to help their clients.

“It’s strongly recommended that the Government implements the strategy listed in the independent review conducted by Sir Christopher Bellamy. The Crown Court backlog has reached an astonishing 60,000 cases over Easter alone, and prosecution delays have surpassed 700 days.

"Victims are being left in limbo without knowing if the person/people who committed a crime against them will face justice and defendants may now be left without representation when fighting their case in court.

"With the changes outlined in the independent review, we can significantly reduce the backlog and regain the public’s trust and our title as a fair and just system," she added.

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