Criminal law barristers yesterday voted two to one in favour of calling off their industrial action and accept the deal offered by the government.
However, fewer than half of the Criminal Bar Association’s 4,000 members voted, despite constant exhortations over the past fortnight to have their say.
The CBA membership was balloted on this question: “Do you wish to continue ‘no returns’ and days of action until all the cuts and reductions in [solicitors’] contracts are abandoned?”
Some 1,878 votes were cast, of which 1,249 (67%) said ‘no’, and 629 (33%) said ‘yes’.
This means the CBA will suspend its action in return for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) suspending the 6% cut to the Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme until after next year’s election – 89% of criminal barristers work solely under this scheme – and a resumption of proper engagement between the two.
The agreement sparked a massive debate over the past fortnight both among barristers and between barristers and solicitors, with opponents arguing that it had shattered the unprecedented unity that had been built up between the two sides of the profession and had hung solicitors out to dry.
On Wednesday, CBA vice-chairman Tony Cross QC published a lengthy critique of the actions of solicitors in opposing the government cuts, arguing that there has been nothing like the same level of unity among solicitors as among barristers.
He said: “Our relationship with the leadership of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association and London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association seems badly damaged. I am sorry that that has happened. I dare say that had they been in the same position as us with the MoJ, they would have taken the same decision and by a similar route.
“Do you believe that solicitors would have refused to accept the withdrawal of the 17.25% fee cuts until the Bar had got what they wanted? What would have been the reaction of their solicitor members?”