Old Bailey courts closed as barrister strike action gets under way
- Credit: PA
Only three courtrooms at the Old Bailey were open for cases this morning as barristers begun the first day of strike action.
Today - Monday, June 27 - was the first day of planned walkouts by thousands of lawyers currently locked in a dispute over pay and conditions.
The industrial action has meant that some courtrooms sat empty, while others were only able to swear juries in before adjourning cases until later in the week, when lawyers are available.
With 14 days of action planned for the next four weeks, some crown courts are running limited services, with criminal trials and other cases postponed or rescheduled.
Barristers on picket lines accused the government of not listening to their concerns about the criminal justice system, and are angry that a proposed pay rise of 15 per cent would not kick in immediately or apply to backlogged cases.
About 50 barristers, many in their gowns and wigs, gathered close to the entrance of the Old Bailey, where a sign was held up listing their demands.
It read: “Raabed of justice. Pay for criminal bar daylight robbery.”
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Those there spoke of the need for a pay increase amid long working hours.
Justice secretary Dominic Raab said the barrister strikes are “regrettable” and will “only delay justice for victims” at a time when pressures on the criminal justice system have resulted in significant waiting times for cases to be concluded.
He said: "I encourage them to agree the proposed 15pc pay rise, which would see a typical barrister earn around £7,000 more a year.
“Their actions will only delay justice for victims.”
However the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), Jo Sidhu QC, dubbed criminal barristers the “poor persons” of the legal system.
Speaking outside the court this morning he said: “Right now we are engulfed in a crisis of epic proportions that had never afflicted this country previously, which has brought almost to a standstill the system that we all love.
“Last year, we lost another 300 criminal barristers. Why? Because they could not do this job anymore on what they were being paid, and for the hours that they were toiling.”
He went on: “We are not a privileged species, we are the poor persons of the justice system.
“Each and every one of the men and women standing here today and across this country make a decision that they would like to serve the public, as a prosecutor, as a defendant in order to deliver justice.
“And they have put in their time, effort and hours in order to do that but we have no respect from a Ministry of Justice which would expect us to continue without any sense of the long term survival of our industry.”
Barrister Alejandra Llorente Tascon, also speaking outside the Central Criminal Court, added: “I know that many like myself have grown up in council estates, come from humble beginnings, being state educated and relying on scholarships and loans to get in to this profession.
“This is not just an issue for me, many like me are in hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of debt because of the education that we have invested upon to get into this profession.
“We are on our knees, we cannot survive on below minimum wage. We cannot survive with the way in which we are being paid.”
The CBA said around 81.5pc of the more than 2,000 members to vote in the ballot supported walking out of court.
They will also refuse to accept new cases and carry out “return work” – stepping in and picking up court hearings and other work for colleagues whose cases are overrunning.
Two days strike action is expected this week, with an additional day added each week for the next three weeks.
Fresh talks with the government are not believed to be planned.