A proposed barristers’ strike has been averted after the suspension of controversial pilot schemes for new criminal court procedures.

Criminal barristers had been poised to go on strike over the introduction of plea and case management hearings (PCMH), which are replacing plea and directions hearings (PDH) in Crown Court cases. Pilot schemes were due to take place in Preston and Nottingham, but have been suspended.

The new hearings will take up more of a barrister’s time and will require the barrister – whether acting for defence or prosecution – to prepare for a case earlier. However, the Government had not made any proposals to increase the fee paid to counsel for the work. It is the second time in just over a year that barristers have threatened to strike. As revealed by The Lawyer (8 March 2004), hundreds of barristers last year threatened strike action over new Government pay levels for murder and fraud cases.

Bar Council chair Guy Mansfield QC and Criminal Bar Association (CBA) chair David Spens QC have been lobbying the Government to introduce appropriate levels of remuneration.

In a letter sent to heads of chambers, senior clerks, the CBA and other bodies on 26 May, Mansfield advocated patience over the next few months. He concluded: “If, but only if, the Government fails to act properly and sensibly, will it be time to address what steps individual practitioners might take to show their displeasure. At present we have not quite reached that point.”

Tom Handley, chambers director at Exchange Chambers in the North West, confirmed that members of the set had refused to take on cases involving PCMHs.