Criminal barristers start weeks of industrial action
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Marc Bloomfield
Description: Legal aid
Following Tube and rail workers, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) announced on 20 June 2022 that its members had voted in support of days of action (not attending court) and taking no new instructions or returns on advocates’ graduated fee scheme cases, following what chair Jo Sidhu QC described as the ‘government’s continuing refusal to engage in negotiations aimed at finding a fair settlement to our demands’.
Action began on 27-28 June 2022 and is due to last an initial four weeks. It follows the CBA’s decision to implement a ‘no returns’ policy from 11 April, in which barristers refused to accept cases returned from colleagues who were not able to do the next hearing because of diary clashes. The days of action will increase by one each week, ending with a five-day strike from 18–22 July. According to the ballot, following a week of suspension of the strike, another full week of action will commence on 1 August, and there will be alternating weeks from thereon, ‘remaining under review and subject to the response from government’. The action was supported by 81.5 per cent of the 2,055 CBA members who voted.
In a joint statement, Sidhu and vice-chair Kirsty Brimelow QC said:
This extraordinary commitment to the democratic process reflects a recognition amongst criminal barristers at all levels of call and across all circuits that what is at stake is the survival of a profession of specialist criminal advocates and of the criminal justice system which depends so critically upon their labour.
On 22 June, the lord chief justice, Lord Burnett, stepped into the dispute by issuing guidance:
A failure to attend at court, having accepted instructions, may amount to professional misconduct … All cases in which there is non-attendance should be referred to the senior presiding judge’s office to consider whether to involve the Bar Standards Board.
This guidance provoked a strong reaction on Twitter, with barrister Richard Huw Jones commenting: ‘I understand the need for guidance, but this is not guidance. These are orders. It rather suggests that his words on the criminal bar were a tad hollow.’ Alan Bogg, professor of labour law at the University of Bristol Law School, tweeted: ‘In light of the observations of the LCJ, it is worth recalling Ezelin v France (1991)1Ezelin v France App No 11800/85, 26 April 1991. and protesting lawyers. Any form of dissuasive penalty, including a reprimand, will engage article 11. And Ezelin predates the ECtHR’s strong protection of the individual right to strike.’
There were demonstrations outside the Old Bailey and at Crown Courts in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds and Manchester on 27 June, which are due to occur on each Monday of action.
 
1     Ezelin v France App No 11800/85, 26 April 1991»

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