‘WE’RE ON LESS THAN MINIMUM WAGE’ – barristers tell MPs

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JO SIDHU, Chair of the Criminal Bar Association (centre, right) in discussion with colleagues who lobbied MPs and Lords inside Parliament yesterday afternoon

BARRISTERS lobbied parliament yesterday and raised with MPs the demand of an urgent injection of funds into Legal Aid.

Lucie Wibberley, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) Secretary, told News Line outside the House of Commons: ‘Barristers are meeting MPs at the Palace of Westminster today.

‘This is to raise the issue of the crisis in the criminal courts.

‘We are asking for an urgent injection of funding into Legal Aid so that we can recruit sufficient barristers to relieve the backlog of cases.

‘Our barristers are taking five more days of action this week and then every other week from then on.’

In the lobby queue, senior barrister Grace Ong, said: ‘I’ve been a barrister for 36 years. I’m here to support the Criminal Bar and all the young barristers that will come after me.

‘It’s important because we need a diverse and socially mobile criminal bar to represent the public.

‘The defendants, complainants, the whole criminal justice system, suffers from lack of representation because you are going to see fewer and fewer criminal barristers staying in the profession. Barristers are just not paid enough for the work they do.’

Junior barrister Charlie Hannaford added: ‘I’m coming up to two years qualified. I left my studies with a lot of debt. I’ve only been able to start paying it back in recent months. At the end of June I earned less than £900 before tax.

‘What you’ve got left to pay all your bills is not enough. It’s not surprising some people are leaving. It’s not even a minimum wage, people can earn more working in a restaurant.

‘Legal Aid has been cut left, right and centre. That affects working class people most. Our action must continue until we win.’

Barrister Zayd Ahmed said: ‘Anyone who earns less than £40,000 a year is entitled to Legal Aid if there is the possibility that they could go to prison. The government pays for that person to be represented in court.

‘But our fees have not changed since 1996. This means that it is uneconomic for us to do the job. We work many more hours than we are paid for. It works out we are getting £6.20 per hour.

‘Last year 1,000 defence barristers left the job and every day, more are leaving. There are going to be none left to protect the accused. Innocent people end up being locked up for far longer than they should be. Some lawyers are so burnt out from so much excess work that they have realised they have to start looking after their own welfare.

‘We love this job but I have had to take on a second job, as I only earn £20,000 a year.

‘During the two years of the Covid pandemic, cases were constantly being cancelled and the government saved £240 million. We have asked for that money now to be used to pay for legal aid cases.’