CBA votes to refuse new legal aid work

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has voted to refuse any new legal aid work and in favour of ‘no returns’ by a margin of 10 per cent.

Of the 1,777 votes cast, 982 (55 per cent) were in favour of striking while 795 (45 per cent) were against. Membership of the CBA numbers around 4,000, meaning turnout for the vote was around 45 per cent.

The ballot question, voted on last night, asked members whether they would refuse any new work with a representation order after 1 July. In voting for the motion, criminal barristers support solicitors’ strike action, voted on regionally in late June.

The industrial action is an attempt to reverse the 8.75 per cent cut to solicitors’ fees, which was introduced on 1 July. Fees have been cut by 17.5 per cent over the last 15 months.

In voting for ‘no returns’ barristers have withdrawn their willingness to travel to courts anywhere in the country at very short notice in order to cover hearings where diaries clash. These hearings are often not remunerated but are essential to running Crown Courts efficiently.

The CBA’s executive board has already made arrangements about how to enact the no returns policy and best inform clients and arrange with court managers and judges to reschedule cases and avert clashes. It will consider exactly how best to achieve this ahead of its AGM tonight.

This action follows on from a decision by the CBA on 30 June not to strike with solicitors, despite a 96 per cent vote in favour of direct action in a survey of its members earlier this year. Turnout on that occasion was around 35 per cent.

The CBA’s executive chose not to ballot its members following the election and voted against strike action in late June during the period in which solicitors up and down the country voted in favour of action. It met with ministers since the election to discuss the reforms.

Justice minister Michael Gove said this morning while giving evidence to the Commons Justice Committee: “I’m disappointed that members of the criminal bar voted in their ballot to take action, though I think it was interesting that the vote was closer than many might have anticipated and there were a number of members of the criminal bar who didn’t vote.

“I have have deveoped an admiration for Tony Cross and the leadership of the Criminal Bar Association over the course of the meetings that I have had with them. I don’t believe that the leadership believe that action was necessary at this time. I think they recognise that we want to work constructively with them and with the bar to ensure we have a healthy criminal bar: it’s one of my top priorities.”

“I still think it is possible for the department to continue to talk to the CBA about meeting their concerns.”

He echoed the words of many at the bar when he added: “The Criminal Bar is proving an increasingly unattractive route to go down” for young lawyers. 

“When you and I were leaving university, Mr Chairman, the criminal Bar offered all sorts of attractive opportunities. Now we have to consider our successors who are leaving university now, and how we can ensure we have the quality of barristers we’ve had in the past.”