Barristers are voting on whether to end strike action after a pay offer from the Government.
A ballot for Criminal Bar Association (CBA) members opened on Tuesday evening and closes at midnight on Sunday.
A decision will be announced on Monday.
The body agreed to ballot members again after talks with Justice Secretary Brandon Lewis in which he decided to propose further reforms to Government-set fees for legal aid advocacy work, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said.
A criminal defence barrister reads a statement outside Bristol Crown Court in support of strikes for the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) who are taking action over Government set fees for legal aid advocacy work. Picture date: Tuesday September 6, 2022. Ben Birchall
The offer represents “further investment of £54 million in the criminal bar and solicitors”, according to the department.
Criminal barristers in England and Wales are taking part in a continuous walkout after their row with the Government over fees and conditions intensified.
Prior to that, they were striking on alternate weeks and refused to carry out certain types of work.
There had been anger that a planned 15% fee rise barristers were due to receive from the end of September – meaning they will earn £7,000 more per year – would only apply to new cases and not those already sitting in a backlog waiting to be dealt with by the courts.
But now the MoJ has said the fee increase will apply to the “vast majority of cases currently in the crown court” as well as provide a pay rise for solicitors, with further measures due to be announced in the coming weeks.
Barristers are voting on whether to end strike action after a pay offer from the Government. Stefan Rousseau
This is despite the department previously saying 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.”
It is understood the move requires changes to the digital system used by the Legal Aid Agency to make payments and, while officials are confident there is a solution available, they fear it may be difficult and expensive.
The pay offer came after High Court judges ruled that delays to criminal trials affected by the ongoing strike may not be a good enough reason to keep defendants in custody on remand if the dispute continues beyond the end of November.