Criminal courts set for further logjam as barristers likely to strike – The Irish Times

The criminal courts are likely to face further logjams next month with barristers set to strike as part of efforts to secure more pay.

The withdrawal of services is being organised by the council of the Bar of Ireland, which has more than 2,000 members. It has issued a recommendation to members to “again withdraw service” on three dates in July.

The move is an escalation from a strike on October 3rd when almost no criminal business happened in the Criminal Courts of Justice as hundreds of barristers took part in their first ever national strike over the Government’s failure to reverse recession-era cuts in legal fees.

The dates barristers are set to strike are July 9th, 15th and 24th.

The barristers benefited from a €9 million funding package in the last budget to reverse a 10 per cent cut to criminal legal aid fees. It was welcomed at the time by the Bar council as “an important and necessary first step”.

However, in a statement on Friday, the Bar of Ireland said it was disappointed pay levels from the Celtic Tiger era had not been restored.

The group “expressed disappointment at the lack of progress over years in reversing the cuts, implemented in 2008 under legislation reducing the pay of many public-sector groups as part of the response to the financial collapse”.

It highlighted a “core complaint” that while the cuts have been “reversed for most groups, they remain in place for professional fees for prosecution and defence work with criminal legal aid fee payments still set at 2002 levels”.

“This is despite barristers having co-operated with the delivery of efficiencies and reform in the provision of services,” the group said.

In response to queries on the matter, the Department of Justice said it was “aware of the proposed withdrawal of services”.

It said the criminal legal aid scheme “needs to be modernised”, and pointed to the Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Bill 2023, which “proposes a number of reforms to criminal legal aid”.

“Department officials have been and will continue to engage with all relevant stakeholders including the legal professions, on the modernisation and funding of the legal aid system,” it added.

Bar of Ireland chairwoman Sara Phelan said the group was “simply looking for fairness”, adding it has been “seeking pay restoration for eight years”.

“A Government-commissioned review in 2018 acknowledged that the reversal of the cuts imposed on barristers following the financial emergency in 2008 was justified given the level of reform and flexibilities delivered by the profession,” she said.

“Yet, barristers continue to be treated differently to others in the criminal justice system and indeed to society at large,” she added.

“We sincerely regret having to take this action again in furtherance of a mechanism to determine fees, and we will work with our colleagues in the criminal justice system to minimise the impact on the most vulnerable people.”

The Courts Service had no comment to make.

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