Ireland: Criminal barristers withdraw services on first of three July strike dates

Ireland: Criminal barristers withdraw services on first of three July strike dates

Pictured: Séan Guerin SC and Sara Phelan SC with striking barristers at the Criminal Courts of Justice, Dublin.

Criminal barristers across Ireland have withdrawn their services in a major escalation of The Bar of Ireland’s campaign for an increase in fees paid to counsel.

Dozens of barristers and some solicitor colleagues defied the wind and rain to gather in front of the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin yesterday morning, joined by the Bar Council’s chairperson Sara Phelan SC and criminal State bar committee chairperson Seán Guerin SC.

The Bar Council, which organised an unprecedented one-day withdrawal of services last October, says the action is necessary as the government has not followed through on a promise to review the fees paid to criminal barristers by the DPP and under the criminal legal aid scheme.

“If government were to come to us tomorrow and give us a binding commitment to review our fees, to sit down and engage with us, well then that would be one thing,” Ms Phelan told our sister publication Irish Legal News. “That binding commitment is not there. That’s why we’re here.”

Cuts of between 28.5 per cent and 69 per cent were imposed on barristers following the 2008 crash. There was a partial restoration of fees – to the tune of 10 per cent – following last year’s withdrawal of services.

Ms Phelan pointed out: “Even if we, at this stage, were to have a binding mechanism to restore those fee cuts, we would still be suffering about a 15 to 16 per cent reduction in fees because we’ve had no cost-of-living or inflationary increases since 2018… Nobody else across the public sector has had to endure that.”

Labour leader Ivana Bacik joined the crowd at the CCJ alongside recently-elected Dublin MEP Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.

“I was a criminal barrister myself for many years, many years ago, and I know that criminal barristers already are at the lower earning end of the bar,” she told ILN.

“It’s hugely important for a functioning and effective and fair criminal justice system that the criminal legal aid scheme can attract the best, and I’m really concerned to see that there’s a lot of attrition from the criminal bar at the moment because of this failure to restore pay rates.

“We’re calling on government to act to restore pay rates and to listen to what the barristers are saying today.”

She added: “I think all of us would have hoped it wouldn’t come to this. We’re very conscious that there are delays in the criminal justice system already, and that’s really not fair to victims, it’s not fair to those accused, or to anyone who’s caught up in the system.

“Any delays are really regrettable, any stoppages of work are really regrettable – but I think the reality is that it has come to this because government haven’t engaged sufficiently with the criminal barristers, so we’re appealing to government to move on this now.”

Writing in ILN yesterday, Simon Donagh BL, chair of the Irish Criminal Bar Association, said: “Make no mistake, the cause for the inevitable disruption lies solely and exclusively with the government. Had barristers’ pay been restored in line with everybody else’s none of this would be necessary.

“As advocates we use our voice to speak for others, but this government has forced us to speak up for ourselves.”

Darren Lalor BL told ILN that he came out in support of the Bar Council’s campaign, but also wanted to raise the plight of criminal barristers in the District Court, where payments to barristers are made via solicitors.

“The Bar Council’s protest today is for the unwinding of cuts – but what I’m saying is that let’s not forget about the District Court and for a direct payment for barristers,” he said.

Similar gatherings took place this morning at courthouses in Ennis, Cork, Tralee, Naas, Kilkenny, Limerick, Castlebar, Longford, Trim, Sligo, Clonmel, Bray, Waterford and Wexford.

The Bar Council is recommending its members take action again on Monday 15 July and Wednesday 24 July.

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