Junior barristers bear brunt of ‘creaking’ criminal courts

A ‘surge’ of complaints over ‘shabby’ court listing is driving junior barristers to reject cases, warned the Criminal Bar Association.

In the association’s weekly email to members, its vice chair, Chris Henley QC, said the organisation had received a ‘surge recently of complaints of bad listing practices’.

He cited examples, including 25 cases all listed at 10.00am, a two-hour part-heard multi-handed sentence hearing listed at 9.15am behind a part heard trial (the court cells not even being open until 9.30) which wasn’t reached until mid-afternoon and three different trials listed in the same court on the same day.

He said: ‘We have had extremely pressured (and increasingly fed up) junior barristers contacting us for advice, struggling with the child care and financial consequences of such practices. Others have decided not to accept briefs in certain courts.’

In busy lists, he said, cases should always be staggered or time marked for the benefit of barristers, clients and witnesses. ‘But shabby listing seems to be on the increase. It abuses our professionalism and saps goodwill to list multiple cases at the same time.

‘Many judges and recorders are embarrassed by what is going on and express regret to counsel who arrive promptly but then have an unreasonable but entirely predictable wait to get on (and may have had to pay for peak time travel).’

Henley pointed to statistics showing there are 50% fewer junior barristers of 0-5 years call than there were 10 years ago, and said that life at the criminal bar for those with caring responsibilities, which has always been challenging, is ‘fast becoming close to impossible’.

He said: ‘Our courts run on a generous supply of goodwill and flexibility from advocates and solicitors. The criminal courts would seize up without it.

‘A huge amount of unpaid time is gifted by our members to the CJS. The abolition of travel expenses for most courts and many hearings being unremunerated add to the difficulties’.

He added: ‘It is becoming harder and harder, and more and more stressful to make a living. The junior bar has been haemorrhaging talented women, in particular, over the past few years’.

And while many concerned words have been spoken at very senior levels about diversity and social mobility, he said: ‘If these words have meaning there now needs to be action’.


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