Barristers are to ballot on ending their strike after the Government met two of their key demands as part of a £54 million package.
Brandon Lewis, the Justice Secretary, agreed to extend the 15 per cent pay rise to cover most of the backlogged crown court cases and will provide £4 million worth of fees to cover barristers for additional pre-trial hearings in rape cases where victims are cross-examined on video to spare them the trauma of appearing in court.
The barristers were previously only going to receive the extra £7,000 a year for new cases - and would have been out of pocket for the pre-trial rape hearings, a key plank of the Government’s policy to tackle the slump in sexual assault convictions. The fee increases will also apply to solicitors.
The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) is to suspend its strike action pending the outcome of the ballot, which is expected in about a week’s time. It follows talks instigated by Mr Lewis after he took over from Dominic Raab as Justice Secretary earlier this month.
'Better outcomes for victims'
Mr Lewis said: “My priority in these discussions has been to ensure victims aren’t forced to wait longer to see justice done. These are generous proposals, and I would strongly urge all members of the CBA to consider carefully, end their strike and work with me to deliver better outcomes for victims of crime.”
The action, which began in April, has disrupted hundreds of cases and trials and is thought to have contributed to four successive months when the crown court backlog has increased. It now stands at 59,992, up from 41,000 before the Covid pandemic.
Kirsty Brimelow, the CBA’s chairman, said: “The offer from Government has resulted from constructive talks between the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the leadership of the CBA. This offer represents a substantial positive movement from Government. As a result the offer will be put to a ballot.”
Cutting the backlog
The CBA and Bar Council have also committed with the Government to reduce the courts' backlog and boost diversity among barristers. This will include examining ways to reduce the number of ineffective trials, secure the early resolution of cases and speed up the transfer cases from magistrates to crown courts.
The MoJ is also proposing a £5 million uplift per year for fees in the youth court, from the 2024/25 financial year, expected to benefit both solicitors and some junior barristers.
The potential resolution comes just a day after the high court gave the Government a two-month deadline to resolve the pay dispute if it was to avoid the prospect of suspects charged with serious crimes being released from jail because of judges’ refusal to extend time limits on custody.