Thousands of criminal barristers are refusing new work following cuts to the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS).
In a poll of its members, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) reported that 90% of the 2,317 who voted were in favour of the protest, including refusing to take new cases from 1 April, when the revised AGFS regime came into force, and ‘days of action’.
Announcing the decision with a ‘heavy heart’, CBA Chair, Angela Rafferty QC said: ‘The criminal justice system is collapsing.’ Quoting the late Sir Henry Brooke, she said: ‘This is not about money for lawyers. It is the liberties of England that are at risk.’
‘This is far wider than any scheme relating to fees. The new AGFS was the final straw that exposed the chronic impoverishment of a once great system,’ she added.
The Bar Council and the Law Society came out in support of the CBA. In a joint statement the Bar Chair, Andrew Walker QC and Vice Chair, Richard Atkins QC said: ‘We stand by the CBA and the criminal Bar in striving for the proper funding of the criminal justice system.’
They added: ‘We stand by them, too, in seeking to secure a future for the criminal Bar, whose dedication and commitment are essential to ensure that we can deliver justice fairly and efficiently.’
More than 80 chambers are taking part and two defendants charged with murder have already been left unrepresented.
A week into the protest, Rafferty suggested it could be prolonged. In her weekly email to members, she said: ‘We must have strength and work together to get through the next months and to hold firm.’
Rafferty thanked solicitors who have supported the Bar. ‘They too are completely undervalued, mistreated and underfunded,’ she said.
The Ministry of Justice said: ‘We are extremely disappointed with the position the Criminal Bar Association has taken.’ While, in an interview with The Sun on Sunday, Justice Secretary, David Gauke said he was determined to fix the shattered justice system.
Meanwhile, a survey of more than 4,000 barristers carried out by the Bar Council found that over a third of criminal barristers had considered leaving the profession.