Fraud trial under threat as silks strike over pay cuts

Queen’s Counsel from a raft of chambers have rejected offers of instructions in a major money laundering case. The move is a rebellion over new rates of Government pay for criminal defence barristers.

Barristers from more than 20 sets of London chambers, as well as most sets in the regions that do criminal work, have been contacted by Liverpool-based Linskills Solicitors, which acts for three of the defendants. All have refused to accept the instructions.

It is the first evidence in England of a concerted strike action by barristers over the Government’s new contract rates, now averaging £110 an hour for lead counsel for the most complex fraud, drug and murder cases.

The money laundering case, which involves allegations of counterfeiting, is due to start in September at Manchester Crown Court.

A hearing next week will determine whether to go ahead with the case without lead counsel or delay the trial until they can be found. The judge has no power to order lead counsel to take part because the cab-rank principle no longer applies.

Julian Linskill, name partner at Linskills, said: “The [Crown Prosecution Service] has got a good QC. So going to trial without silks raises issues of fairness of trial and equality of arms. These issues, if we lost at trial, may take us to the Court of Appeal and then the European Court of Human Rights.”

A Bar Council spokesman commented: “It doesn’t surprise us to hear that the [new rates of pay] are not acceptable to barristers.”

The spokesman said the Government has already indicated it will review the new scheme in May.