CBA Chair Nigel Lithman QC, who “as a matter of courtesy” had informed the Lord Chief Justice, Recorder of London, Common Serjeant and Director of Public Prosecutions, confirmed: “Many members of the criminal Bar intend to attend a series of meetings across the country on Monday 6 January 2014 so that they can discuss their futures. They will be ready to resume by 2pm.”
“It is not a decision that has been taken lightly,” he added, and it would be “a matter for each individual barrister to decide whether he or she will protest in this way”.
The Circuit Leaders and CBA have drafted a protocol (see www.criminalbar.com) to ensure “minimum inconvenience” to courts and clients. It emphasised that those in a case involving the young or vulnerable should attend court, and those concerned that their lay client’s liberty may be at risk should ensure that their professional client’s representative could attend “until such time as you will be present”.
A MoJ spokesperson said in response: “Barristers in VHCCs are well-rewarded. Around two-thirds receive fee incomes of over £100,000, and often well over that. Even after our changes they would continue to be generously paid – both for VHCCs and in advocates graduated fee scheme cases. We have consulted on two options for reducing wider advocacy fees – including a brand new model based on the CPS system specifically requested by barristers – eg the reduction in trial fees suggested were options of 8% or 11%. We are carefully considering the responses to the consultation on those options before reaching a final decision.
“Disruption to court schedules is unnecessary, and barristers choosing to do so inconvenience their clients and hardworking taxpayers.”
The ‘stay-away’ is the latest step in the CBA’s protest against fee cuts. It follows refusal to enter into new VHCC contracts and return of existing contracts under the 30% reduction in remuneration terms.