Lawyers voted on escalating action into a full-scale strike over pay disputes

Lawyers are voting on plans for a full-scale strike next month amid a dispute with the government over jobs and salaries.

Members of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) have been walking out every two weeks but are now being voted in for an indefinite, continuous strike that would begin on September 5.

Voting ends at midnight on Sunday, with the result expected on Monday.

According to the Department of Justice (MoJ), more than 6,000 court hearings have been halted as a result of the row over conditions and government-set fees for legal aid legal work.

Data released under freedom of information laws shows that in the first 19 days of the industrial action – between June 27 and August 5 – 6,235 court cases were halted, including 1,415 court cases, across England and Wales.

The CBA said the action was already having “a devastating impact on the ability of our Crown Courts to function with any semblance of normalcy” and that the Attorney General’s “continued refusal to negotiate a fair settlement with criminal attorneys comes at a very heavy price.”

In a statement released on its website at the opening of voting earlier this month, the CBA said members had indicated there should be “no interruption or cessation of the ongoing strike program,” adding, “It is clear that a significant proportion of our membership would like to be given the opportunity to escalate our current actions towards a continuous strike in order to exert the greatest possible influence on the government at this critical time.

“Given the expectation that the ongoing strike action will inevitably result in the progressive incapacitation of the courts, there is no doubt that resolving this dispute will be the crucial priority of any incoming justice minister.”

Criminal lawyers are set to receive a 15% fee increase from the end of September, meaning they will earn £7,000 more a year.

But there was anger that the proposed pay rise will not take effect immediately and will only apply to new cases, not those already in arrears waiting to be dealt with by courts.

A MoJ spokesman said: “We are increasing lawyers’ fees by 15% and investing a further £135m a year in criminal legal aid, which will see the typical lawyer earn around £7,000 more a year.

“We have sped up this legislation so lawyers will start receiving this extra money from the end of September.

“The only result of the escalation of strikes is further hardship for the victims, who are forced to wait longer for justice.”

The government ministry said it had “repeatedly explained” to the CBA that backdating salaries would require a “fundamental change” in fee payment, adding: “This reform would cost a disproportionate amount of taxpayers’ money and would take longer to implement.” That means lawyers would have to wait longer for payment.” Lawyers voted on escalating action into a full-scale strike over pay disputes

Dais Johnston

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