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Industrial Action

Criminal barristers to strike for three days next month over 'lack of progress' on pay restoration

“We are simply looking for fairness,” the chair of the Council of the Bar of Ireland Sara Phelan SC said.

CRIMINAL BARRISTERS IN Ireland are set to strike on three dates next month due to what they say is a lack of progress on pay restoration.

The Council of the Bar of Ireland last night recommended that its members who are criminal law practitioners withdraw service on Tuesday 9 July, Monday 15 July and Wednesday 24 July.

The Council will formally notify the Government of the planned industrial action today.

It said the planned withdrawal is an escalation on the “unprecedented action” taken by barristers last October, when they held their first ever strike and called on the Government to restore cuts to criminal legal aid funding.

At the time, fees paid by the State to criminal barristers were more than 40% below 2002 levels in real terms following a range of cuts during the recession, according to the Bar of Ireland.

This was “despite a Government commissioned review in 2018 acknowledging that the reversal of the cuts was justified given the level of reform and flexibilities delivered by the profession”. 

The Government announced a 10% restoration of fees as part of Budget 2024 last October.

“However, even after this 10% was restored, the full range of FEMPI-era cuts that were applied across the public sector, continue to apply to the profession, and the unilateral breaking of the link (in 2008) to public sector pay agreements has yet to be restored,” the Bar of Ireland said.

It said the Government also committed to a review process looking at the structure and level of fees paid to criminal barristers when announcing the Budget, “through which the Council’s request for a further unwinding of the cuts applied to the professional fees of criminal barristers, and restoration of the link with public sector pay agreements, would be considered”.

“However, this process has not yet even begun, and this has led to growing frustration amongst criminal law practitioners,” it continued.

The Council said it consulted with members of the Bar of Ireland over the last number of weeks, which culminated in a General Meeting on Monday.

The “overwhelming view” of those present at the meeting was that further action should be recommended until the issue is resolved, it added. 

Sara Phelan SC, Chair of the Council of The Bar of Ireland said the Council has made clear to both the Government and to members that it we would be willing to allow a period of time up to 30 June for the review proposed by Justice Minister Helen McEntee to be completed.

“In light of the fact that this review has not yet even commenced, frustration has been growing amongst practitioners,” Phelan said.

We are simply looking for fairness. We have 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. Yet, barristers continue to be treated differently to others in the criminal justice system and indeed to society at large.”

Phelan said they “sincerely regret having to take this action again” and will work with their colleagues in the criminal justice system to minimise the impact on the most vulnerable people.

“In the meantime, we remain available to engage with Government – the ball is in their court,” she said.

Sean Guerin SC, Chair of the Criminal State Bar Committee said there is “no good reason for failing to effect pay restoration” in return for the efficiencies and improvements that have been delivered by barristers over a number of years.

“The targeting of the Bar in this way represents a fundamental threat to the integrity of the criminal justice system,” he said.

“It has consequences for recruitment and retention at the Criminal Bar and this is already creating issues which, if not addressed, will undoubtedly have a profound impact on the administration of criminal justice and the public good.”

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