The courts dealing with Brighton and Hove cases face more delays after criminal barristers voted in favour of an all-out strike from Monday 5 September.
Dozens of cases at Lewes Crown Court and its satellite crown courts in Brighton, Hove and Chichester have already been delayed since the start of the current industrial action.
But this morning (Monday 22 August), criminal barristers in England and Wales have voted to start an all-out strike next month in a row with the government over jobs and pay.
Members of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) have been walking out on alternate weeks but were balloted on whether to escalate the industrial action with an indefinite, uninterrupted strike that would start on Monday 5 September.
The ballot closed at midnight yesterday (Sunday 21 August) and the result was announced this morning.
CBA vice-chair Kirsty Brimelow said that this was “last-resort action” over a demand for less money than it costs the government for the courts to sit empty.
She told BBC Breakfast: “The effect (of the strike) will be that the courts continue to sit empty with trials and cases not being heard. It is a last-resort action.
“The remedy is for an injection of money into the backlog of cases, which currently stands at 60,000 cases, that barristers are working on that will cost the government only £1.1 million per month.
“Currently, it’s costing much more for the courts to sit empty.”
According to Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures, more than 6,000 court hearings have been disrupted a result of the dispute over conditions and government-set fees for legal aid advocacy work.
Data released under freedom of information laws show that during the first 19 days of industrial action – between Monday 27 June and Friday 5 August – there were 6,235 court cases disrupted, including 1,415 trials, across England and Wales.
Criminal barristers are due to receive a 15 per cent fee rise from the end of September, meaning they will earn £7,000 more a year.
But there has been anger that the proposed pay rise will not be made effective immediately and will only apply to new cases, not those already sitting in the backlog waiting to be dealt with by courts.
Justice Minister Sarah Dines said: “This is an irresponsible decision that will only see more victims face further delays and distress.
“The escalation of strike action is wholly unjustified considering we are increasing criminal barristers’ fees by 15 per cent, which will see the typical barrister earn around £7,000 more a year.”
The MoJ previously said that it had “repeatedly explained” to the CBA that backdating pay would require a “fundamental change” in how fees are paid, adding: “That reform would cost a disproportionate amount of taxpayers’ money and would take longer to implement, meaning barristers would have to wait longer for payment.”