The government minister in charge of the courts in England and Wales has accused barristers of “holding justice to ransom” after they voted to stage an all-out strike next month.
On Monday the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), which has been staging periodic strikes since June, announced its members had voted to withdraw their labour altogether from Sept. 5, which threatens to derail hundreds of trials up and down the country.
Criminal barristers have been promised a 15 percent rise in their fees from the end of September but the rise will only apply to new cases and not ongoing legal work, much of which has been delayed by the pandemic.
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, writing in the Daily Mail on Tuesday, said, “Leaders of the CBA are now holding justice to ransom, threatening the progress we’ve achieved, causing untold anguish for victims, and preventing the innocent from clearing their names.”
“Ramping up strike action now is needless and indefensible, especially after we confirmed a pay boost that will put an extra £7,000 in the average criminal barrister’s pockets,” he added.
Raab—who was heavily criticised when he was foreign secretary for not coming back from holiday to handle the crisis as Kabul fell to the Taliban, stranding dozens of British citizens—has not met the CBA since April and is on leave with his family until Thursday.
Victims’ Commissioner Warns of More ‘Repeat Crime’
Raab’s comments come as the Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, predicted knife crime would rise as a direct result of the strike.
She told The Telegraph, “If the courts are at a complete standstill and you cannot remand people in custody due to rules on time limits, then the risk is people who should have been in court, remain on the streets on bail.”
“There must be a risk of more repeat crime. It could be knife crime. It could be anything, but it is going to be a relatively serious crime. We know very well that a large percentage of crime is due to repeat offending particularly in burglary but also in violence,” Baird added.
Baird said up to 70 percent of defendants who are released on bail are later convicted.
The leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer—a barrister himself, and a former director of public prosecutions—said the government had done “absolutely nothing” to settle the dispute.
Starmer said: “I quite understand, whether it’s barristers or others, why people and how people are struggling to make ends meet. I want to see the government step in and actually help resolve these issues. Instead of that we’ve got a government doing absolutely nothing.”
PA Media contributed to this report.