The Criminal Bar Association passed a resolution meaning that members of the criminal bar would be attending meetings rather than Court on the morning of 6th January.
The background to this is as follows:-
The rates payable for Crown Court advocacy were fixed by the Government in 2007 following the Carter report. The fees then fixed were supposed to represent reasonable payment for work done. Since that time there has been no increase in fees to take account of the rises in the cost of living. Additionally there has been a series of reductions in fees which has resulted in the average fee payable for a case now in 2013 being over 35% less in real terms than that which would have been paid in 2007. Many Crown Court advocates have seen their fees cut by a larger percentage than that – e.g. Silks involved in murder trials. The Government’s own figures in the first of the recent consultation documents suggested that 60% of the criminal bar now received less than £50,000 p.a. from criminal legal aid – a figure that includes VAT. From the resultant ex-VAT figure, a barrister has to make provision for chambers expenses, a pension, health insurance etc.
In addition to that the Government has cut the fees in VHCC cases by a further 30% across the board from December 2013 and now proposes to cut again fees payable on graduated fee cases. If these new reduced fees are introduced the overall reduction in fees in real terms since 2007 will be over 41% on average. The bar has stood firm against further cuts, pointing out that no other profession has sustained cuts of the magnitude already imposed on us. We have been met only with the response that the Government needs to save money and that we will have to bear the brunt of it again.
In the past the bar has made polite protests and done no more with the result that we have been targeted for fee cuts on a repeated basis. There is now a strong feeling at the criminal bar that if these cuts are introduced they will make it impossible for many to continue in practice. The loss of a large number of good practitioners will either destroy the criminal bar or render it a small and ineffective group unable to prosecute and defend to the high standards that have been expected of them hitherto. The criminal justice system will suffer as a direct result of the cuts. Trials will take longer and Judges will be deprived of the help that they have rightly come to expect will be provided to them.
It is against the background and for the reasons set out above that many members of the criminal bar intend to attend a series of meetings across the country on Monday 6th January 2014 so that they can discuss their futures. They will be ready to resume by 2pm. It is not a decision that has been taken lightly. It is of course a matter for each individual barrister to decide whether he or she will protest in this way. It is anticipated however that the likely consequence will be that Crown Courts will not be able to sit until 2.00 pm.