Criminal barristers begin strike after DCA shuts them out

Criminal barristers are today (3 October) beginning a national walk-out over the Government’s refusal to raise legal aid fees. The action follows months of unsuccessful negotiations between the Department for Constitu-tional Affairs and the Bar Council.

Barristers across the country are planning to refuse new instructions for those cases affected by the cuts, which are principally short criminal cases ranging from one to 10 days and coming under the Graduated Fee Scheme (GFS).

A meeting of 250 barristers and senior clerks held at the Old Bailey on Wednesday 28 September heard a suggestion that the strike be postponed until Lord Carter of Coles reports back on his review of legal aid procurement in the New Year.

But The Lawyer can report that the vast majority of individual barristers across the country are planning to begin refusing new instructions today. The full effects of the strike will not be known for some time.

The Bar Council is unable to officially condone the strike. However, on 16 September it issued guidance to the profession, advising that barristers are not obliged to accept instructions other than at a fee suitable for the complexity and length of the given case. In November 2003 the council decided that fees for GFS cases were not “proper fees”.

Bar chairman Guy Mans-field QC said: “Barristers are angry and I share their anger. For some, their treatment at the hands of the Government, who imposed unilateral cuts without prior consultation, has been simply too much. The fact is that this double hatchet-job on a crisis-ridden payment structure is unwarranted. The time has come for the Government to deliver without delay.”