Criminal law

Lawyers’ strike: the criminal law does not die, it is dead, says the lawyer


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“Justice is for everyone, not just for the rich, and that’s why we went on strike,” says junior barrister Tabitha Walker.

Criminal law “isn’t dying, it’s pretty much dead,” one lawyer claimed.

Justice Minister Sarah Deans said the strikes were “irresponsible” and would delay justice for the victims.

Strobel, 35, a criminal lawyer since 2017, said the profession would “fall apart” if the problems were not rectified.

Mr Strobel practices criminal law at Apex Chambers in Cardiff and said he has seen a “drain” of people leaving the Bar due to unsocial wages and hours.

“You must be a little crazy to say, ‘If I had the highest qualifications, I would earn half the money, but have twice the workload,'” he said.

image source, Getty Images

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Lawyers in England and Wales have begun an indefinite, ongoing strike after staging intermittent strikes since the end of June.

Why are the lawyers on strike?

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) wants a 25% increase in legal aid fees for representing defendants who cannot afford attorneys.

CBA President Kirsty Brimlow said this was an attempt to “prevent the criminal justice system from completely collapsing”.

The government offered a 15% increase from the end of September, which CBA rejected, saying it would not start soon enough or apply to existing cases.

After intermittent strikes by CBA members since the beginning of June, an all-out strike officially began on Monday.

Mr. Strobel said that in the five years he spent practicing law, he knew only one other lawyer outside his room who had decided to turn to criminal law.

“They sit and look at the workload and go, why would I do this if I can go to family (law) and earn twice as much, or civil (law) and earn three times as much,” he said.

“I’ve had many students…they were all told in law schools: don’t commit crimes.”

“And that’s where the real problem is, I would say crime tape isn’t dying, it’s pretty much dead right now.”

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Nick Strobel says he believes anti-social working hours and low wages push people away from the criminal code

He said he believes that not only should wages be increased, but work-life balance should also be improved, as many lawyers do not know about their cases the next day until 17:30.

“Suddenly, you have a trial the next day… so you’re likely to read about a brand new case.”

“It makes organizing any life, whether it’s socializing, dinner with a partner, or spending time with the kids, very difficult.”

‘Chaotic and unsustainable’

Martha Smith Higgins, 26, of Cwmbran, Torfaine, is also a criminal solicitor at Apex Chambers in Cardiff.

Despite the strike, she said she continues to process cases, without pay, until the early hours of the morning.

image source, Martha Smith Higgins

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Martha Smith Higgins says she ‘loves her job’ as a criminal attorney, but thinks it’s ‘unsustainable’ without change

“Tonight I will now work until 2:00 in the afternoon, then get some sleep before I get up at 6 and start again,” said Smith-Higgins.

“Only if this hearing reaches the trial stage, and I am lucky enough to be able to go to trial, will I get paid.

“In short, it is chaotic and unsustainable,” she said.

Ms. Smith-Higgins said she regularly has conversations with law students, about the most common question “by far” being “Is the salary really that bad?”.

“The smartest, most ambitious lawyers are kept from joining us,” she said, adding, “In fact, the damage has already been done.”

“If you fast forward a few years…we wouldn’t have lawyers trying and defending, and we wouldn’t have judges.”

She added that she wanted to set up a body to review lawyers’ fees to ensure that strikes were not necessary again.

“perfect storm”

Laura Shepherd, 30, became a lawyer in 2017 and although she initially worked on civil and criminal cases, she has since left criminal law behind.

“There is absolutely no incentive left to stay in crime,” she said.

“There are three things that make the perfect storm: not a lot of money, a lot of spillovers, and a terrible work-life balance.”

image source, Laura Shepard

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Laura Shepherd says that lawyers who don’t come from wealth have to stay away from criminal law

“There’s a psychological impact to working in crime, you’ve had some pretty egregious cases, and if you want counseling you have to get it yourself.

“The damage to your personal life is appalling in crime, and by the nature of jury trials you can never predict when they will end.”

Ms Shepherd said there was additional stress in criminal law because the justice system itself was “breaking down”, with lawyers’ salaries being just one of a number of issues.

“There is a problem at every level, but it is clear that you can only strike for your own profession,” she said.

“People who don’t come from a wealthy background are forced to stay away from criminal law, so there is a process of self-selection going on.

“You don’t get better people.”

“irresponsible” strikes

“This is an irresponsible decision that will only result in more victims facing further delay and distress,” Justice Minister Sarah Deans said in a statement.

“The escalation of the strike is wholly unjustified given that we are increasing criminal lawyers’ fees by 15 per cent, which would see the typical lawyer earn around £7,000 extra a year.”


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