A striking lawyer outside a Manchester court has said the government was responsible for what she described as a ‘broken’ criminal justice system.
Kirsty Brimelow QC said the walkouts were being staged as a ‘last resort’ in a dispute over legal aid funding. She added that the pressure on lawyers is “onerous”, particularly after the Covid pandemic with a backlog of cases now accumulated.
She was among a group of lawyers on the picket line outside Manchester Crown Court this morning on the first day of the strike. The walkouts will take place over several days over the next few weeks.
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In addition to going out, lawyers will also refuse to take on new cases and perform “return work” – stepping in and taking over court hearings and other work for colleagues whose cases are overflowing. The Criminal Bar Association (CBA), which represents lawyers in England and Wales, said around 81.5% of the more than 2,000 members who voted in the ballot supported leaving the court.
Of those who supported the walkouts, most voted for the option to deny new cases as well. In total, 43.5% of all voters opted for this particular combination.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast in court today, Ms Brimelow, vice-chairman of the Criminal Bar Association which represents lawyers in England and Wales, said: ‘This step was taken after a democratic vote and really as a last resort.
“The pressure on the lawyers is really heavy and everyone here knows their code of ethics and their duties towards the court and towards their clients. The clients are consulted. The clients are in favor of this action.
“Those in the criminal justice system know how it works and how broken it is. The problem is caused by the government, not the lawyers.”
Asked why the proposed 15 per cent pay rise was not enough, Ms Brimelow added: ‘If it was on the table, that might be the position. But the position won’t come into effect. until the fall, and then it only applies to new cases, not to the backlogs that we are all dealing with now in court.
“The effect of the 15% is that this increase will probably only hit lawyers at the end of 2023, maybe the year after, maybe the year after.”
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She added: “A working day for a junior lawyer is ridiculous hours, the system has been on goodwill for a very long time, including during the pandemic. As for the 15% that is now offered , this is following a recommendation from an independent review that was published in December 2021.
“That review said a minimum and that didn’t take into account that 23% collapse in lawyer’s income that happened during the pandemic.
“If you’re thinking about making around £100 per case it might take around a day. You can be stuck on this case all day I say stuck on the case which means you’re in court you can’t take other works.
“And so what’s being asked for is 25 per cent minimum, and that means an extra £25 for those hearings.”
Dominic Raab said the lawyers’ strikes are “regrettable” and “will only delay justice for the victims”. In a statement released ahead of the first day of the strike, the Justice Secretary said: “It is unfortunate that the Criminal Bar Association is on strike, given that only 43.5% of its members voted for this particular option, the most disruptive.
“I encourage them to accept the proposed 15% pay rise, which would see a typical solicitor earn around £7,000 more a year. Their actions will only delay justice for victims.”