The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has called for ‘financial compensation’ for barristers after delays to promised fee uplifts, and accused the Ministry of Justice of reneging on a pay deal.
CBA Chair Chris Henley QC said increased rates for the advocates graduated fee scheme, which ministers promised would be introduced in October, would now not be effective until December after consultation on them was delayed.
In June barristers voted to halt protest action over proposed reforms to crown court fees in return for a promise of £15m extra money. But Henley said that after looking at the figures, the actual increase amounted to only £8.6m in real terms.
Henley criticised the ‘completely unacceptable’ delay and said that trust in the ministry was ‘hanging by a fraying thread’. He said: ‘Every week that passes saves the MoJ money, and costs us. We know of no legal reason why the new fees cannot be backdated. We are waiting to be shown any legal advice, if it exists, that would prevent this.’
He reminded the government that the protest action in June had been ‘suspended’ not halted, and called on the ministry to ‘deliver on the full £15m’ and provide ‘financial compensation’ for the delay.
Henley added: ‘We are consulting heads of chambers so that we are ready if the promises made to us in May are not honoured in full.’
In an interview in The Times, William Clegg QC, head of 2 Bedford Row, predicted that without more money, barristers will take further protest action – downing tools for a day, then refusing new cases and returns, which he said ‘will very soon bring the whole thing crashing down’.
Clegg also warned that the criminal justice system is in ‘crisis’ with morale among judges and lawyers at an all-time low and ‘squalid’ courts.
He said: ‘If you go to any crown court today in London, you’ll find lavatories that are blocked and don’t work, lifts that are broken, carpets that are threadbare, roofs that leak, walls that need painting – they are squalid.’ He compared this with developing countries where the ‘courts are kept immaculately clean’, adding that the condition of the courts here is ‘indicative of the lack of respect for the rule of law’.