Suspected violent criminals could be bailed next month if barristers don't agree pay deal today


SUSPECTED violent criminals could be released on bail by judges from the end of November if barristers do not accept a Government pay deal. A ballot of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) over whether to accept the deal ends today, Sunday, October 9, with results expected to be announced on Monday. Barristers began pay strikes in April and last month pledged indefinite industrial action if new Justice Secretary Brandon Lewis (above) did not offer an acceptable deal. The ongoing strikes saw trials delayed until next year and had begun to affect the remand system for prisoners. They should only be held for six months before trial, however judges can extend this in extenuating circumstances. At the end of last month the High Court accepted an appeal by the Director of Public Prosecutions against decisions by judges at crown courts at Bristol and Manchester, who freed some remand prisoners on bail due to the industrial action after custody time limits expired. Yet, the High Court judges warned if the strikes continued after the last week in November, then crown court judges would be able to release remand prisoners on this ground. The impact of the strikes has been evident in court hearings for several weeks. last month defence barrister Michael Neofytou applied "with a professional heavy heart" at Wood Green Crown Court to break the fixture for a murder trial set to start the following week.

It was after the defence was unable to find a KC that would accept the case due to the industrial action.

He said it meant the trial would be adjourned until February 2023, with a defendant with no previous convictions, cautions or warnings staying remanded in custody until then and the family of the deceased having to wait longer for a conclusion. The judge agreed to the adjournment. On Thursday three men appeared at Birmingham Crown Court for sentence for firearms offences. Julian Lynch prosecuting said: "No defence counsel attends for any of the defendants as a result of the ongoing Bar action." Judge John Butterfield KC adjourned sentence to next Tuesday, October 11, after the vote, adding: "I hope for everyone's sake it can go ahead, but can't promise it and am not even optimistic." Mark Fenhalls KC, Chair of the Bar Council, said: “We welcome the fact that the CBA leadership has felt able to recommend the proposal from the Ministry of Justice in the ballot of its members. The grave concerns of barristers at the criminal Bar - and their personal sacrifices - appear to have been heard by those at the highest level. It will be for individual barristers to decide which way to vote." The £54 million deal includes a planned 15 percent fee increase for criminal barristers for the majority of crown court cases.

Stephanie Boyce, President of the Law Society, said: "We had an urgent meeting with minister Gareth Johnson last week and presented our arguments strongly.

“It is positive that as a former criminal defence practitioner, the minister understands the problems in our criminal justice system.

“However, rather than anything substantial, all that is currently being offered to solicitors by the government is more promises of jam tomorrow. We will continue to push for a fair deal for solicitors for the crucially important work they carry out.

“Lord Bellamy KC made clear in his report and his evidence to the Justice Select Committee that the 15 per cent increase for solicitors is not a starting bid but is the minimum necessary. We agree.

“Unless the UK government announces promptly that the overall package for solicitors will be increased to an absolute minimum of 15 per cent, they will have made clear that they are not interested in the evidence and are not serious about ensuring the economic viability of criminal practice.

“In that situation, we will advise members that there is no viable future for criminal legal aid.

“We will insist on further urgent discussions.”

Mr Lewis said: "These are generous proposals, and I would strongly urge all members of the CBA to consider carefully, end their strike and work with me to deliver better outcomes for victims of crime."