So the Barristers Strike is off and all decent law breaking protestors can look forward to being sent down with the benefit of proper legal representation. There’s been a deal. But is the law book half open or half shut?
“Result is in. The future of the criminal Bar now depends upon trusting this government. Last one out, turn off the lights. The shame of it.” Ben Knight Central Chambers
Was the take from one Barrister on twitter, as to the deal. The exact terms would require another article but the 15% rise in fees is being paid for more cases already underway. Like jury deliberations we aren’t told the reasons for voting but it was certainly not overwhelming with only 57% voting ‘yes’ to the deal. The numbers were, Yes 1488, No 1117 with a turnout of 2605 compared to 2273 on the ballot for indefinite all out action in September. Perhaps a more measured view of the outcome was:
“For the first time in it’s history the criminal Bar successfully undertook strike action. Much of the detail of the deal remains unclear and that may explain the motives of those who voted no. The ministry of Justice should be in no doubt that any attempt to renege, dilute or rewrite the deal is likely to be met with a return to days of action. There is still much that needs to be fixed in the criminal justice system and this deal is only a starting point”
-Russell Fraser Garden Court Chambers
The key points from this are, firstly, a profession that has never gone on strike before doing so. People can get by without being sent to jail but if this is a foretaste of spreading militancy we’ll see how the government reacts to Nurses or Doctors striking. Secondly the Government has made concessions. Exactly how much is unclear and they may welch on the deal but the message is clear. The Government can be forced to make concessions over pay. Added to their very public U-turn on the top rate of tax it shows Truss is weak and certainly no Iron Lady. Third the Barristers are not ‘broken’ crawling back to work so as to get their wigs out of porn. They can strike again on a whim and the backlog of cases created on top of the already existing Austerity/Covid mess will take a long time to clear and while that’s the situation the Government are vulnerable and the Briefs should be proud of what they’ve achieved and confident they can achieve more in the future.
Where does this leave defendants facing protest charges? Obviously it means cases going ahead again but already we are seeing examples of fixtures (cases with dates set in advance) being abandoned to get higher priority ones into court. Some of this is rightly giving people on remand first turn but it’s hard to see why say Inner London Crown Court has room for an Insulate Britain M25 case every week till Christmas when the Governments has such a ‘commitment’ to dealing with the collapse of properly prosecuting sexual offences.
Lastly an age old refrain from the earliest days of legal support. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER be the first person to plead guilty for any action, protest, demonstration that has had even a smidgeon of media publicity. It is every Judges dream to be in the papers for throwing the book at someone for doing what offends The Sun or Daily Mail. Thus Maddie Budd, pourer of poo on the monument to SirCap’nTom Moore is currently remanded (HMP Bronzefield we presume) after fezzing up at first appearance. She fell foul of this rule and the “don’t be first to be done under a new law” rule. In this case the ‘Statutes are Sacred” law (s50 Police Crime Sentencing & Courts Act 2022 and has been told the ‘Starting Point’ in the sentencing guidelines for her £200 of Criminal Damage is 18 months imprisonment. That IS what they say. Before April this year it would have been a ‘High Level Community Order’. By her sentencing on the 25th October she will already have done the equivalent of a 6 week sentence. For comparison Jim Matthews got 30 days for graffing Churchill’s statue at Mayday 2000. So kids, let’s be careful out there!
Image: Guy Smallman