Protest at Mayo courthouse as criminal barristers withdraw service

FOLLOWING a recommendation from the Council of The Bar of Ireland last month, criminal barristers around the country will withdraw their services this Tuesday, July 9, in the first of three days of withdrawal this month.

Protests will take place tomorrow at 16 courthouses nationwide where criminal cases are due to be heard, including Castlebar Courthouse.

This is an escalation on the unprecedented action taken by criminal barristers all over the country on October 3 last, with the aim of seeking an independent, meaningful, time-limited and binding mechanism to determine the fees paid to criminal barristers by the Director of Public Prosecutions and under the Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Scheme.

Following the first withdrawal on October 3, 2023, a 10% restoration was subsequently announced in Budget 2024. 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.

This is 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.

Sara Phelan, SC, Chair of the Council of The Bar of Ireland, said: “It is with regret that we have recommended to criminal practitioners that they withdraw service again. No barrister wishes to be in this position, but we have been left with no choice.

“The government has just reported on the complete unwinding of FEMPI legislation this month, yet FEMPI-era cuts still apply to our profession. This is despite the fact that the role of criminal barristers has evolved significantly in that time frame, and we have at all times delivered on the required reforms and flexibilities. Yet, barristers continue to be treated differently to others in the criminal justice system and indeed to society at large.

“All we are seeking is fairness, and for appropriate investment in the criminal justice system. A failure to so invest will result in continued attrition at the criminal bar, which will in turn add to the delays already being experienced by members of the public involved in the criminal justice system - these delays can often be very difficult, in particular for victims of crime and accused persons, all of whom are seeking to have their rights vindicated.

“The ball is in the government’s court now.”

The Council of The Bar of Ireland has recommended a nationwide withdrawal of service on three dates - July 9, 15 and 24.