Barristers in England and Wales vote to end strike action

Criminal barristers in England and Wales have voted in favour of an all-out strike next month in a clash with the government over jobs and pay.

Criminal barristers have voted to accept the government’s pay deal on legal aid fees and end their indefinite strike.

The offer by the justice secretary, Brandon Lewis, included a 15% increase in legal aid fees to “the vast majority of cases currently in the crown court”, £3m of funding for case preparation and £4m for prerecorded cross-examinations of vulnerable victims and witnesses.

The Ministry of Justice had previously announced a 15% increase in legal aid fees but only applicable to new cases from the end of September, so not covering the backlog in the crown courts of about 60,000 cases.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) had been demanding an immediate 25% increase, applicable to all cases, but agreed to put the government’s offer to its members. Industrial action began in Apriland has been gradually escalating until criminal barristers began an indefinite strike on 5 September. Voting opened on Tuesday and closed at midnight on Sunday.

The CBA said on Monday that 57% out of 2,605 who voted were in favour of accepting the government offer.

It said on Twitter: “The criminal justice system remains chronically underfunded. As a democratic organisation, we take our mandate from you. Your engagement has been overwhelming and we know that you remain committed to achieve a strong, sustainable, independent criminal bar for the future.”

The decision by barristers to accept the offer will come as a relief to the government amid industrial action across several sectors, including the railways and postal service.

It also removes the looming threat of defendants on remand for serious crimes being released on bail as they reach the end of their custody time limits because their trials have been delayed due to the strike.

High court judges said last month that by the last week in November, when three months would have passed since the CBA announced the indefinite walkout, the absence of legal representation because of the strike was unlikely to be sufficient reason for extending custody time limits beyond the six-month maximum.

The delayed criminal legal aid review (Clar), published in December, recommended an immediate minimum increase in legal aid fees of 15%. The CBA says criminal barristers have seen real earnings fall by 28% since 2006, while inflation is currently 9.9%.

Barristers said they were fighting for the future of the criminal justice system, which is failing victims, witnesses and accused, who face lengthy delays for cases to come to trial because of the backing in the courts. The 2,400 or so remaining criminal barristers are a quarter fewer than five years ago, according to the CBA, which blamed low legal aid fees and the stress of working in an under resourced, dysfunctional system for driving advocates – particularly juniors – away.