Justice Secretary Lewis urges striking barristers to return to work
New Justice Secretary Brandon Lewis has urged striking barristers to return to work as they met with ministers for the first time since the start of their industrial action.
In a brief statement following his talks with the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) and the Bar Council, Mr Lewis – who was only appointed two weeks ago – said the discussions had been “constructive” and would continue.
His predecessor Dominic Raab previously refused to meet with the CBA during their action over pay.
The meeting was initially meant to take place last week but was delayed after the Queen’s death.
While all planned demonstrations were also postponed, the all-out strike has continued during the national mourning period.
Mr Lewis said: “Today I met the Criminal Bar Association and Bar Council to emphasise the need for striking barristers to return to work and get justice moving again.
“It was a constructive initial meeting and discussions will continue to deliver for victims.”
In a joint statement, the CBA and Bar Council said: “We’ve had a constructive introductory meeting with the Lord Chancellor (Mr Lewis) to discuss the ongoing action of criminal law barristers.
“All are committed to finding a resolution acceptable to all and for the future of the criminal justice system. Detailed conversations now will take place as a matter of urgency.”
The CBA said that a series of demonstrations planned for Thursday have now been “paused” for a week.
Barristers in England and Wales have been taking part in a continuous walkout after their row with the Government over pay intensified.
CBA chairman Kirsty Brimelow told MPs earlier this month the group was “absolutely willing to negotiate” and had been all year, but “there’s been no alternative (to taking action) because we’ve had absolutely no negotiation”.
Mr Raab was succeeded by Mr Lewis after becoming a high-profile casualty of incoming Prime Minister Liz Truss’s Cabinet reshuffle.
He had not met the CBA since members embarked on industrial action in April, but Ms Brimelow said meetings were requested “repeatedly”.
Some did take place with junior ministers and Ministry of Justice (MoJ) officials.
The action was “disrupting trials” and victims of crime are “suffering the most”, Ms Brimelow said as she warned defendants would “increasingly” be let out on bail as their custody time limits expire.
Criminal 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 has been anger the proposed pay rise will not be made effective immediately and will only apply to new cases, not those already sitting in the backlog waiting to be dealt with by courts.