Striking barrister hails ‘proud tradition of service by Jewish legal aid lawyers’

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Striking barrister hails ‘proud tradition of service by Jewish legal aid lawyers’

Jonathan Black joined criminal barristers on the picket line outside the Old Bailey as strike action took place across England and Wales in a dispute over legal aid fees and conditions.

Jonathan Black, (centre) joins barristers on picket line out the Old Bailey
Jonathan Black, (centre) joins barristers on picket line out the Old Bailey

Barristers, including members the Jewish community, are striking across England and Wales in a dispute over legal aid fees and conditions.

Criminal barristers joined picket-lines outside a number of high-profile courts on Monday, including the Old Bailey in London and Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff and Bristol Crown Courts.

Outside the Old Bailey, Jonathan Black, a partner with BSB Solicitors firm, told Jewish News:”There has for many decades been a proud tradition of legal aid lawyers from the Jewish community serving the wider population .

“Many firms have closed down or stopped providing legal aid work as a result of failure by government cuts and failure to link rates to inflation . Rates have remained static since 1996 .

“Graduates are not entering the profession and the next generation of partners and judges are not coming through .

“Leaving university with student debt means that the sector is not an attractive prospect . Communities need access to justice on the high street”

Striking barristers have warned the profession is facing an “existential crisis” because of inadequate funding.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) says that the government’s offer of a 15% uplift in fees, is not sufficient after the impact of cuts – and will not apply to a growing backlog of 58,000 cases in crown courts.

Despite misconceptions around barristers’ earnings, the strikers claim specialist criminal barristers make an average annual income after expenses of £12,200 in the first three years of practice.

They are now pushing for a 25 per cent rise, and plan to stage further walk-outs unless the dispute is resolved.

This means that nearly a quarter of junior criminal barristers have left the profession since 2016.
Many are leaving the profession taking roles in CPS and civil service or in the commercial sector.

Others fear the profession is under attack from the current government, with claims that lawyers who seek to challenge policies are “activists” even though they apply the rule of law.

Muswell Hill Synagogue member Black told Jewish News that court closures and the crown court backlog has meant that defendants and witnesses are waiting two to three years for cases to be concluded, leaving their lives on hold.

“With the loss of professionals there is no longer enough people to service those cases , those that remain are having to work long hours for limited pay and often at an hourly rate below the minimum wage,” he said.

“This can’t be sustained.”

Black also warned that unrepresented defendants are becoming common.

“Representing yourself is a very risky process,” he added.

“You would be surprised how often members of the public find themselves in a position when they need advice from a criminal lawyer. ”

The government has called the CBA’s decision “disappointing” and said the “unnecessary” strikes would only harm victims.

It has questioned the CBA’s mandate for the action and claims a 15% increase would mean a typical criminal barrister earning about £7,000 extra a year.

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