We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Alamy Stock Photo

Barristers' representative body recommends strike action over pay reform

The Bar of Ireland has called for pay reform for barristers working in criminal law.

BARRISTERS IN IRELAND could be set to strike in October following a recommendation from their representative body that they “withdraw services” to demand pay reforms for those working in criminal law.

The Bar of Ireland said today that it has recommended to its members the withdrawal of services “in pursuit of a meaningful, independent and time-limited mechanism to determine the fees payable to barristers by the Director of Public Prosecutions and under the Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) scheme”.

The body said it had engaged with successive governments on the issue, “but no progress has been made, despite barristers delivering at least the same level of reform and flexibility delivered by other professional groups for whom cuts have been reversed”.

The Council of the Bar of Ireland has now formally notified the government of its recommendation that members withdraw their services for one day on 3 October.

A statement from the Bar of Ireland said: “Fees for criminal barristers remain below 2002 levels in nominal terms, following a range of cuts applied during the financial emergency.”

It said that since 2008, barristers are paid a flat rate “with no provision for inflation or cost-of-living increases, in marked contrast to those employed in the public sector.

“Barristers have suffered a pay cut in real terms of more than 40% over the past twenty years while every other sector working in the criminal justice system has seen pay restoration implemented,” the statement said.

A 2018 report led by the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, in conjunction with the Department of Justice and sanctioned by the Department of Public Expenditure, found that “ongoing flexibility” from criminal barristers was comparable to flexibility delivered by other groups that justified the reversal of pay cuts imposed during the recession.

The Bar of Ireland said: “The flexibility delivered by barristers has enabled significant and valuable reforms to be implemented in the operation of the criminal justice system to improve the experience of victims, their families and vulnerable witnesses, to improve administrative efficiency and enable financial savings by the Office of the DPP, the Courts Service and other state agencies, and to save the time and effort of individual members of the public serving as jurors.

“As a direct consequence of the failure to restore fee cuts, a career choice for recently qualified junior barristers in crime has become unattractive when compared to opportunities in other areas of law.

“Two-thirds of criminal barristers leave practice after just six years at the Criminal Bar, due to the remuneration and conditions that currently exist in criminal practice. Retention rates drop to less than a third of those who set out to pursue a career in criminal law. This is already creating issues in respect of frontline advocacy services, which if not addressed, will undoubtedly have a profound impact on the administration of criminal justice and the public good.”

Barristers in Ireland have staged several protests over pay issues for various areas of the law they work in. They took to courthouse steps across the country in May over fees paid to barristers practicing in the District Court under the criminal legal aid scheme.

Last year, defence barristers held a protest outside the Criminal Courts of Justice amid calls for an increase in rates of pay in the criminal legal aid scheme.

The junior and senior lawyers said that the current rate of pay for District Court appearances is unsustainable.

Barristers are calling for the restoration of cuts imposed during the recession. At present those practicing in the district court are paid €25.20 for a remand hearing, €50.40 for a plea in mitigation at a sentence hearing and €67.50 where a matter goes to a full trial.

Chair of the Council of The Bar of Ireland, Sara Phelan SC, said: “Barristers are being treated differently to other members of the criminal justice system and indeed to society at large.

“Despite delivering a range of changed work practices and reforms that have delivered significant efficiencies for the criminal justice system, the Government has refused to recognise this by means of fee restoration.

“We have been attempting to engage with Government on this matter for seven years now and, having exhausted every avenue available to us, we have now lost confidence in Government’s commitment to the preservation of the highest standards in the administration of justice and in the existing mechanism for determining the fees payable to barristers practising criminal law.”

Chair of the Criminal State Bar Committee, Sean Guerin SC said: “The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Department of Justice acknowledged the flexibilities provided by our members to improve the administration of criminal justice as long ago as 2018, and further substantial reforms have been implemented since then with the cooperation of our members. The failure by consecutive Governments to recognise this by means of fee restoration, and the targeting of the Bar as the only participant in the criminal justice system not to secure pay restoration, is a fundamental threat to the integrity of the criminal justice system.”

Sara Phelan SC concluded, “It is with regret that we are confirming our recommendation to members to withdraw services– but we have been left with no choice. This is not an action the Council or the members of the Law Library take lightly, as we are acutely aware of the impact on everyone involved in the criminal justice system. We have notified Government of the intended action, and, in the meantime, we remain available to actively engage with them on these important matters.”

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel