07:56, April 23 270 0 theguardian.com

2019-04-23 07:56:06
Prosecution lawyers threaten to walk out in protest at low pay

Prosecutors are threatening to walk out next month in protest at low fees of as little as £46.50 for a day in court.

A survey of members of the Criminal Bar Association who handle cases for the Crown Prosecution Service found that 95% said they were prepared to take industrial action.

More than 2,040 barristers who carry out prosecution work in England and Wales responded, virtually all of those working on piece rates for the CPS.

The CBA is considering launching an initial protest action on the first Tuesday in May, potentially inflicting chaos on magistrates and crown courts.

The survey found 99% of members felt they were underpaid for their advocacy skills, while 85% said they felt undervalued by the CPS.

Chris Henley QC, the chair of the CBA, said: “The criminal bar has spoken with one voice. The current relationship with the CPS is broken. 95% are prepared to walk out or refuse to take cases if the DPP [director of public prosecutions] refuses to fix it. There has been no investment for 20 years. Nothing. It is unsustainable to carry on like this.

“Police forces have been denied the resources they need and now can’t cope with soaring serious crime rates. The CPS has been battered by savage cuts to its budget and lacks the capacity to deal with increasing numbers of complex cases.

“Our goodwill and professionalism has been abused for far too long. There have been no increases in fee levels for 20 years. You can spend a whole day at court presenting a serious and complex case for £46.50.”

Caroline Goodwin QC, the vice-chair of the CBA, said: “This is not rocket science. All we ask for is fair remuneration for work presently done for nothing. Overburdened with work, work that was never part of any previous agreement and underpaid in a way that beggars belief, the criminal bar is saying plainly and simply: no more.”

The CPS and the CBA met earlier this month to discuss pay levels. A CPS spokesperson said: “We understand that the self-employed bar do have an important role in the criminal justice system and are working with them to make sure we have simple, fair, affordable and sustainable prosecution fee schemes for the future.

“We have already began our review and understand the wish for this to be agreed quickly. However, there is a significant amount of research and analysis needed to make sure we get a broad and deep understanding of the issues with the current schemes. This work will take at least four months. We are committed to getting this right and will keep the profession updated throughout the process.”

Richard Atkins QC, the chair of the Bar Council, which represents all barristers in England and Wales, said: “The many barristers who are instructed by the CPS perform a vital public function, without whom the system of justice in this country would not operate. I hope that the current review of prosecution fees will lead to a substantial increase in the fee levels which were originally set in 2001 and have not seen an increase since then.”