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Statement on the CBA Industrial Action
FIGHTING FEARLESSLY FOR A FAIR AND JUST SYSTEM – STATEMENT ON THE CBA INDUSTRIAL ACTION
The vote by members of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) to take action over legal aid pay rates was overwhelming. We are all used to making tough decisions and none of us will have taken this one lightly. We are also used to hearing platitudes from government ministers praising the “best traditions of the Bar” namely our fearlessness and determination to ensure that fairness is upheld, and justice delivered. Words are cheap. Administering justice costs, so the time has come for a fair and decent settlement.
As the pandemic ensued the entire country was told that “We are all in it together.” As a profession we adapted swiftly to new online practices and our members continued to attend court when required risking our health and that of our loved ones. We continue to do so as the courts open up and pressure intensifies even as Covid infection rates rise again. Without our commitment there would be a greater backlog than the estimated 60,000 cases.
Members of Chambers deserve decent recognition and recompense for our hard work. We are not fat cats seeking to protect substantial salaries and should not be lectured about pay restraint by government ministers some of whom enjoy levels of wealth that criminal barristers can only dream about.
As with most other public services the criminal justice system has been devastated by decades of cuts. The criminal bar has haemorrhaged members as people have found themselves unable to earn enough to pay back the loans they took out to study, get on the property ladder or pay rents to live in our major cities. New recruits have been forced to struggle on little more than £12,000 per annum. This is set to worsen as the cost of living soars.
We have no qualms about fighting for fair pay, but our struggle is not just about barristers fees. We want a system of justice that respects all who work within it and really does offer equal access to those who are forced to use it. We reject attempts to divide barristers from solicitors, court staff and judges. Instead we stand together and demand a system that is fit for the 21st century.
We also emphatically reject attempts to pitch us against our lay clients. We have heard talk of the so called “deserving” and “undeserving” defendants before. In a civilised society everyone deserves justice not just those with the wealth to pay for it. The commitment we undertook when we were called to the Bar was to do our best to ensure that all who are accused are properly represented.
Whilst we still have a long road to travel before we achieve the fairness and equality that is required. In order to succeed the criminal bar must recruit, retain and promote people from all parts of society who look like and reflect the UK in all its diversity in the 21st century. We can only do that if we are able to ensure that new recruits don’t simply survive but thrive.
That is why we stand together, united and determined in our campaign for fair pay and a criminal justice system that is fit for purpose. That is why Nexus as a Chambers supports the CBA action. Nonetheless our individual members determine the extent of their participation and do so on a case-by-case basis.