Justice Secretary ‘hopeful’ of end to barrister strike

The Government needs to ensure that routine strikes by barristers do not slow down victims’ access to justice, the Justice Secretary has said.

Brandon Lewis said he was “hopeful” that the long-running strike by criminal barristers in England and Wales would end after the Government offered them “a comprehensive package” including a 15% fee increase.

But he declined to commit to increasing the legal aid budget in future amid questions about Government plans to cut spending following the mini-budget on September 23.

Speaking at a Policy Exchange event at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, Mr Lewis said: “We are not at the point of having the future legal aid budget looked at yet but I want to make sure we have a judiciary and a bar that is able to work in a good environment.”

Justice Secretary Brandon Lewis said he was ‘hopeful’ that strikes by criminal barristers in England and Wales would end soon (Aaron Chown/PA)

Asked whether he would support a ban on criminal barristers undertaking strike action – similar to the ban on police strikes – he suggested the fact that barristers were self-employed would make this difficult.

He added: “It is true we do need to ensure that we are not going through this kind of thing every four years and we have got a structure that means it continues to deliver for people, that victims can see their access to justice is not being slowed down by this kind of action.”

Criminal barristers in England and Wales have conducted a series of walkouts since April in a row with the Government over pay and conditions and on September 5 began continuous, indefinite strike action.

On Friday, the Government put forward a proposal which it said amounted to a “further investment of £54 million in the criminal bar and solicitors”, which barristers will vote on from Tuesday.

On Sunday, Mr Lewis said: “I’m confident that they will look at the proposals carefully, I’m hopeful that they will look at them positively and we will see an end to the strike.

“It’s a comprehensive package that deals with the issues that need to be dealt with and actually puts the whole structure, particularly for the junior bar, in a very different place in terms of covering off some of the issues.”

He added: “We are blessed in this country with great teams that work across those courts doing the best they can to keep them functioning and I want to make sure they have got the support that they need.”

The result of the barristers’ ballot will be announced on October 10.