Editorial: Barristers’ fight for justice deserves support
The new legal year has started with a bang. Just three short months after Helen McEntee said she didn’t like to see barristers “protesting on the steps of the Criminal Courts of Justice”, there are barristers on the steps of courthouses across the length and breadth of the State as they take part in an unprecedented withdrawal of services.
The Bar Council is to be congratulated for its extensive work over recent months to make clear — not only to government ministers, but also to the general public — the seriousness of the crisis in the criminal legal aid system, where lawyers are now earning 40 per cent less in real terms than they were two decades ago.
If the Law Society has been somewhat coy about its position on the withdrawal of services, then local bar associations and even some solicitor firms have not. Many solicitors are among the over 2,000 signatories to the Bar’s Fair is Fair letter backing the action and calling on the government to commit to fee restoration.
One day of disruption in the criminal courts is a minor thing in comparison to the months of strike action by barristers in England and Wales last year which led the UK government to agree to a 15 per cent increase in legal aid fees. Nobody wants to see a similar situation unfolding in the Irish courts.
Most people agree that the success of the English barristers’ strike has had some influence on the Irish Bar’s decision to go out. In turn, the eventual outcome in this jurisdiction could well influence the profession north of the border, where legal aid woes are also causing deep frustration.
There is widespread hope that one day of action will be enough to focus minds in government and lead to positive news in next week’s budget. If not, practitioners have today shown they are prepared to go beyond empty words to force the government’s hand. The ball is in their court.