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Categorized | Criminal Justice

Barristers ready to take direct action

Barristers ready to take direct action

There is much talk of strikes in the air at the moment, with wide and varied organisations planning to take industrial action on 30 November. In a different context it now looks as if they could be emulated by barristers.

As reported in the ‘Law Gazette’, the new chair of the Criminal Bar Association, Max Hill, has warned that criminal barristers will take direct action, including withdrawing their services, if the government presses ahead with its plans for price-competitive tendering. He told the Bar Council’s recent annual conference that “price competition is anathema to an independent, high-quality bar”, and would mark an end to a quality service and equality. He said that the introduction of price competition and the retention of an independent bar are mutually exclusive, and that the government is in ‘cloud cuckoo land’ if it thinks the system would present a level playing field on which the bar can compete. “Price competition is nothing short of an order that the bar disband and go into business with solicitors. Call it fusion, call it partnership, call it what you like. It is the end of the bar,” he said. He added that barristers are prepared to “act on principle, to safeguard the public interest which is served by an independent bar of specialist advocates….We can and must stand up and act.”

On taking office as chairman of the Criminal Bar Association in September, Max Hill stressed that criminal barristers play a vital role, both prosecuting and representing people charged with criminal offences, to ensure the criminal justice system works efficiently and fairly. He warned that, in this context, legal aid cuts could cripple the criminal bar. In addition, in an interview with ‘The Times’, he said that in the view of the Criminal Bar the imminent cuts to barristers’ fees, on top of serial reductions in preceding years, amounts to a very real threat to a fully functional criminal justice system.

Also reported in the ‘Law Gazette’ is that plans to introduce the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) have run into serious difficulties. The Criminal Bar Association has been told by Max Hill that, amid a dispute about linking payment to accreditation level, progress on QASA has been halted so far as the CBA is concerned. He said that the scheme as proposed would lead to “a world in which the word barrister would have no meaning, and no place within the fee structure.” He added: “Proper reflection from all sides may produce a solution. It is in everyone’s interest to allow that solution to emerge.”

So it looks as if his year of office could be interesting. Urging his colleagues to remain united in the face of the challenges that lie ahead he said: “Tough times are undoubtedly ahead for the criminal Bar. But rather than allowing these issues to divide and depress us all, my mission must be to raise our chins from the floor. I have one key message for anyone who will listen: you can destroy the publicly funded Bar if you want, but you will want it back when it is too late to recover what you have lost.”

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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