In April, more than 50 Barristers’ chambers began refusing to take on any new defence work in response to a perceived ‘crisis’ in the justice system exacerbated by Government cuts and reforms of recent years.
For the most part, the ongoing action relates to the Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS), which came into force on 1 April 2018.
This new legislation brought in new ‘bands’ for legal aid payments, which see Barristers receive fees from the Government whenever they opt to defend people in the Crown Court.
Towards the beginning of April, a prominent murder case at the Old Bailey became the first high-profile case to be affected by Barristers’ strike action and the hearing for Kema Salum, a 38-year-old Tanzanian national accused of murdering his wife, had to be delayed.
According to a report in BBC News, Mr Salum’s solicitor unsuccessfully pursued more than 20 chambers in her efforts to appoint a Barrister to defend him.
Following the news, the media has begun raising concerns that the Barristers’ action is having a “serious impact” on the legal sector, by disrupting the Courts and causing delays.
However, a number of prominent sector groups, such as the Criminal Law Solicitors Association and the Criminal Bar Association, the latter of which is leading the strike, remain in full support of the action.
In fact, Angela Rafferty QC, Chair of the Criminal Bar Association, recently indicated that strike action would be likely to continue until changes to AGFS are properly considered.
“We must have strength and work together to get through the next months and to hold firm…we need the Lord Chancellor and his ministers to put justice in her rightful place at the centre of this democracy,” she said in a recent statement.
In response, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said that it would “continue to engage with the Bar over their concerns regarding the AGFS scheme,” yet branded any attempts to disrupt the Courts as “unacceptable.”
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