Barristers on strike in Plymouth. Photo: Ryan Aldred
Barristers on strike in Plymouth. Photo: Ryan Aldred

Adrian Chaplin, from an Exeter-based chambers, spoke to Plymouth Socialist Party members on the court steps of Plymouth Crown and County Court:

“As has been made clear by the Criminal Bar Association, legal aid rates have been cut by nearly 40% in the last 15 years. 25% of specialised criminal barristers have stopped working in the criminal courts in the last 5 years. 

“The recommendation of the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid was that immediate minimum steps were needed to increase the rates. The government has had that report since November 2021, but the current government proposals will not see any change to the rates actually paid until far into 2023 and beyond.

“Nearly 40% of the most junior barristers left in one year alone. Some of them had ended up taking home less than the minimum hourly wage for a case.  The overall result is that we are genuinely concerned that the levels of funding will result in young barristers being unable to afford to work in criminal cases. That will mean that we are at risk of not surviving as a group of specialist practitioners. That in turn will mean too few defence or prosecution barristers, and in time too few judges, for a properly functioning criminal justice system.”

Christopher Barry, former solicitor, also spoke to Socialist Party members:

“Eight years ago, I left the legal profession during a period of massive legal aid cuts.

“Just like they were when I was a lawyer, the Tories are still in charge, still bleeding the profession dry. It was the Tories who brought in Crown Court means-testing in 2014, leaving many defendants without lawyers for really serious offences, trying to conduct their own cases.

“I worked as a solicitor for a criminal defence firm until 2013, when my firm got into financial trouble, the underlying cause being the continual cuts to our funding. The government was paying less and less, and getting slower and slower at paying it.

“Redundancies ensued and I was one of about ten who got the chop. Two further rounds of redundancies after I left saw more talented defence lawyers forced to rethink their careers. Many left criminal law behind.

“The Law Society reports that the number of criminal duty solicitors outside London has fallen 7% between 2018 and 2021. And the ones remaining are ageing: only 4% are under 35 because criminal defence is no longer an attractive long-term career. Defence solicitors have received no fee increase since 1998. “81% of specialist criminal barristers in the UK voted for strike action and are calling this their ‘last stand’. I hope they succeed, because if they don’t, this mass exodus of lawyers will only continue.”