The Government has been accused of being "obsessed with money" by the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association after a survey revealed that nine out of ten barristers are prepared to strike over proposed changes to the criminal justice system.
Max Hill QC addressed fellow barristers on Friday at the Criminal Bar Association annual dinner at Middle Temple Hall, painting a bleak future for the profession.
"Criminal barristers are facing heartache, depression and personal bankruptcy caused by the wanton failure of central Government to shore up the Legal Services Commission in such a way that they might pay us in reasonable time for concluded cases," he said, referring to the shocking delays in payments since the LSC took over barristers' pay from Her Majesty's Courts Service last April.
"Let us fight, and let us remember the option to strike. Demand better treatment," he added.
Barristers are protesting over changes to the legal-aid system, most recently enacted in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill which was voted into law earlier this year.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman reacted by stating that strikes and the threat of strikes was not the way to go about solving problems.
"Striking is never the answer to resolving complaints. The changes we have made to legal aid are necessary and barristers are still paid well for legal aid cases," they said.
Statistics show that the highest paid criminal-defence barrister was paid nearly £850,000 for their work in 2010. However, junior criminal defence lawyers are earning historically low salaries, something which looks set to worsen after the latest round of reforms.
Nichola Higgins is the former chair of the Young Barristers' Committee.
"Many junior criminal barristers are now on less than £100 a week, with, for the first time in my experience, some facing gaps in their diary where they are not in court. I think the Bar will shrink," she told Legal Cheek.
Financial Times (free signup)