Barristers will be asked to vote on whether to end strike action in the wake of fresh Government proposals in a row over pay, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said.
According to the department, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has agreed to ballot members again after talks with new Justice Secretary Brandon Lewis in which he decided to propose further reforms to Government-set fees for legal aid advocacy work.
The offer represents “further investment of £54 million in the criminal bar and solicitors”, the MoJ said.
The CBA did not confirm the move but is said to be considering the offered terms.
A spokesman said “constructive talks have accelerated”.
But in a subsequent tweet, the CBA said: “It is not a good start that the Lord Chancellor @BrandonLewis has insisted on going ahead with a premature press release.”
The announcement comes after High Court judges ruled that delays to criminal trials affected by the ongoing strike may not be a good enough reason to keep defendants in custody on remand if the dispute continues beyond the end of November.
Sources suggested the court ruling may have “focused the minds of Government to address fundamental issues”.
Mr Lewis, who was sworn as Lord Chancellor at a ceremony on Thursday, said: “I greatly value the criminal bar and solicitors and the work they do every day in our crown and magistrates’ courts. They are crucial to reducing the backlog.
“My priority in these discussions has been to ensure that victims aren’t forced to wait longer to see justice done.
“These are generous proposals, and I would strongly urge all members of the Criminal Bar Association to consider carefully, end their strike and work with me to deliver better outcomes for victims of crime.”
The members of the CBA will be balloted on suspending action on the basis of an interim package.
The details are being discussed with our members.
It is not a good start that the Lord Chancellor @BrandonLewis has insisted on going ahead with a premature press release.
— The CBA (@TheCriminalBar) September 29, 2022
A CBA spokesman told the PA news agency: “The CBA leadership has always maintained to its criminal barrister members, since the action started in April, that should there be any material improvement from Government to meet our six balloted demands… to address payment for all work done by criminal barristers, then we would put this to members in a new ballot where it would be for them to decide whether or not to suspend any action, pending any lasting settlement.
“That moment has not yet come but constructive talks have accelerated.”
Criminal barristers in England and Wales are taking part in a continuous walkout after a dispute over fees and conditions intensified.
Prior to that, they were striking on alternate weeks and refused to carry out certain types of work.
Barristers are due to receive a 15% fee rise from the end of September, meaning they will earn £7,000 more per year.
But there was anger the proposed pay rise would not be made effective immediately and apply only to new cases – not those already sitting in a backlog waiting to be dealt with by the courts.
The MoJ said the pay increase will now apply to the “vast majority of cases currently in the crown court” as well as provide a pay rise for solicitors, with further measures due to be announced in the coming weeks.
The CBA and the Bar Council have also “committed to working together with the Government to reduce the courts backlog and increasing diversity among barristers”, the department said.
Measures designed to reduce delays for victims – such as increasing early resolution of cases, reducing the number of ineffective trials and progressing cases between magistrates’ courts and the crown court – will be explored, a MoJ spokesman added.