Lawyer Monthly - August 2022

EXPLORING THE UK BARRISTERS’ STRIKE WWW.LAWYER-MONTHLY.COM 29 The barristers’ strikes form part of a growing pattern of industrial action across the UK. Junior barristers in the first three years of their practice are currently earning just £12,000 per year, or £6.25 per hour. Effects to Date As might be expected, the strike action has had a profound effect on the UK courts. More than 1,000 active cases have been affected, while the nationwide backlog continues to grow. However, there is still no clear end in sight as neither ministers nor barristers have not indicated a willingness to concede on legal aid fee levels. Meanwhile, both sides are growing more entrenched in their positions. Tensions rose in early July as it emerged that the judiciary had been collecting data from court staff about barristers who have failed to attend hearings for consideration of disciplinary action by the regulator, prompting a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office from the CBA accusing justice ministers of ‘unlawful processing’ of striking barristers’ personal details. The action was subsequently reversed and all collected data deleted, according to a letter from senior judge Sir Charles Haddon-Cave seeking to reassure CBA leaders. As the strikes proceed into August we will continue to observe the progress of the striking barristers, as well as the impact that victims of criminal acts will feel from both the strikes and the legal aid crisis that underpins them. Barrister Sean Summerfield, commenting on the case backlog, succinctly summarised the state of the UK’s justice system in 2022: “It’s never been a better time to be a criminal, and a worse time to be a victim.” Labour Climate in the UK The barristers’ strikes form part of a growing pattern of industrial action across the UK. Most notably, they have coincided with strike actions by UK rail workers that have caused widespread travel disruption and led to the sacking of shadow transport secretary Sam Tarry for joining striking workers on the picket line. Speculation suggests that unions throughout the country are contemplating a general strike in response to ministers’ threats to curb industrial action, which would likely boost the striking barristers’ profile further if undertaken. There are also ongoing reports of similar dissatisfaction among teachers and NHS staff, though this has yet to translate into an active strike. Likewise, The Law Society Gazette has suggested that criminal defence solicitors might also follow the barristers’ example by staging UK-wide walkouts over legal aid funding, but this also remains strictly speculative.

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