This morning, a group of barristers has gathered outside the Old Bailey as part of strikes over pay and working conditions. Around 50, many in their gowns and wigs, stood close to the court entrance, where a sign was held up listing their demands. It read: “Raabed of justice. Pay for criminal bar daylight robbery.” Those there spoke of the need for a pay increase amid long working hours. We asked barristers for their thoughts on this.
2 responses from the Newspage community
The criminal justice system is like a defibrillator in an old phone box - no one really cares about it until your life depends on it, then suddenly it is the most important thing on earth and you hope to heck it works. The problem is, the criminal justice system doesn't work, in fact access to justice in this country no longer works full stop. The assets that are needed for justice have been depleted. Over 250 courts have closed since 2010. That not only means less cases being heard but also increased difficulty for those who rely on public transport to reach a court. Where I live, they closed the court and it is now a hotel. In the next town, they have opened a "Nightingale" court in a hotel, which at least shows the Ministry of Justice has an ironic sense of humour, however misplaced. There are not enough judges and magistrates sitting, and some courtrooms are empty. There are not enough court staff. This means court orders often come out after the dates that are in them for things to be done have passed. That might not seem vital, but if you are a victim of domestic abuse waiting for a non-molestation order, so that you can show it to the police when your abuser sits outside your house, it is vital. There is little to no legal aid available for civil actions. This means that there are more litigants in person, which in turn means more cases where the parties don't know what they are supposed to be doing. As a result, there are more adjourned hearings because rules and directions have not been followed. This costs the taxpayer money, meaning the savings from not providing legal aid are frittered away while at the same time slowing up the system. It can take well over a year to get a civil case to conclusion. So what of criminal barristers, don't they earn a fortune? No. Most work extraordinary hours for what works out at less than the minimum wage. The point that seems to be missed is that the Criminal Bar is a national asset, much like the court buildings. You cannot simply replace the years of knowledge and expertise when it has gone to work in the commercial sector. The underinvestment in justice includes the underinvestment in people. There is a two tier system creeping like ivy across the country. Highly paid commercial lawyers operating in state-of-the-art buildings with efficient systems and criminal lawyers (those that are left) being paid peanuts and operating in broken buildings with not enough staff. Good justice for business, bad justice for people. If you don't believe me, go and look at the Business Courts at the Rolls Building in London, then go and look at Woolwich County Court. Oh wait, you can't, they turned Woolwich County Court into flats. I wonder if they put a defibrillator in the lobby?
Legal Aid rates are criminally low. When you talk about barristers, most people think of highly paid wig-wearing individuals. We don't do criminal law at Wildcat Law. Why? Because it simply does not pay. Ask anyone involved in law and they will say the same thing. Many articles have focused on the amounts paid per case but if you ask a barrister involved in crime they will tell you about the non-billable hours required for most cases. This is work they have to do but can't charge for. Likewise there is no mention of the fact that most barristers are self employed so money received per case is not the same as an employed person's hourly rate. The proof is in the dwindling numbers of lawyers opting to practice in crime, but even more so in the numbers that then subsequently drop out after a few years of trying to make it work financially. We have a choice in this country with regards to legal aid, fund it or lose it. Sadly it may take a case involving a minister being delayed due to one party not having representation before it is taken seriously.