Britain’s criminal defense lawyers announced that they had accepted a new pay offer from the Justice Ministry and would end a five-week strike that left courthouses clogged with thousands of pending cases. The Criminal Bar Association, which represents barristers in England and Wales, voted to accept the offer, which raises legal aid payments by 15 percent for the “vast majority of cases" in criminal courts, the ministry said. The government will offer additional funds to cover the costs of preparing cases and for prerecorded cross-examinations of victims of crime. For the government of Prime Minister Liz Truss, the settlement was a rare bit of welcome news during a period of proliferating labor unrest, reports the New York Times.
The government’s offer fell short of the lawyers’ demand for a 25 percent increase in legal aid fees. Justice Minister Brandon Lewis, did agree to expand the government’s offer of 15 percent to cover not just newly filed cases, but also 60,000 pending cases. The pileup of cases predated the strikes, which began in April and expanded into an indefinite walkout on Sept. 5. Even with a 15 percent increase in fees, some lawyers say criminal defense work remains financially tenuous, leading many to quit for more lucrative practices in commercial or family law. “We have been trying for many, many years to make government understand that unless they intervene, we will continue to see an exodus of criminal barristers from publicly funded work,” said Jo Sidhu of the Criminal Bar Association. “We’ve lost a quarter of our work force over the last five years.” With the inflation rate at 9.9 percent, a 15 percent increase in legal fees is hardly transformative. Lewis had taken a more conciliatory position than his predecessor, Dominic Raab, agreeing to meet with the lawyers and expanding the government’s offer to include existing cases. Victims’ groups praised the agreement, though they raised concerns that the government’s rollout of prerecorded testimony — a practice designed to shield victims of traumatic crimes like rape from testifying in open court — could result in a higher rate of acquittals.