CRIMINAL barristers across Ireland are on strike today for the first time ever.
The one-day walkout is underway at all courthouses nationwide where criminal matters are heard.
The “day of action” was recommended by The Council of The Bar of Ireland, in protest at the “ongoing Government inertia with respect to fee restoration”.
They are calling on the Irish Government to implement a "meaningful, independent and time-limited mechanism" to determine fees payable to barristers by the DPP and under the Legal Aid Scheme.
The Chairperson of the Bar Council of Ireland's Criminal State Bar Committee has said today’s strike will mean work will not go ahead as usual at the nation’s criminal courts, on what is the first full day of the legal year.
Criminal barristers who have opted to participate in the one-day protest will not attend court today, they will not communicate with solicitors or do paperwork or claim fees.
“Since March 2016, the Bar Council has been drawing the attention of Government to the impact on the wider justice system of unrestored cuts in professional fees for both prosecution and defence work,” the Council said in a statement.
“The net effect of those pay cuts at present is that barristers engaged in criminal work are paid more than 40 per cent less in real terms than the rates paid in 2002.
“In addition, the link to public sector pay was unilaterally removed in 2008 and has not been restored, resulting in the ongoing erosion of pay in real terms every year.
“Government policy has been clear: pay restoration is conditional on cooperation with the delivery of efficiencies and reform in the provision of public services. The Bar has met this condition.”
Seán Guerin, Chair of the Criminal State Bar Committee, said: “Criminal barristers have been proactive and cooperative in the introduction of reforms and changed work practices.
“Our way of working has changed dramatically in the last 20 years.
“Our work has increased in complexity, and it has been acknowledged by the Department of Justice and the Director of Public Prosecutions that these reforms have produced significant financial and administrative benefits to the State – and yet we continue to be isolated as a group of workers when it comes to fee restoration.
“Fair is fair, and if not addressed this will have a profound impact on the public good.”
Sara Phelan SC, Chair of the Council of The Bar of Ireland, added: “The criminal bar is haemorrhaging junior barristers – up to two thirds of barristers who commence practice in the criminal courts leave the criminal bar after six years.
“We’re feeling the effects of this already, with reports of cases being held over because counsel can’t be secured to attend.
“While this matter impacts unfairly on our profession, it will also have a detrimental effect on those who have cause to engage with the justice system.
“Whether you are a victim of crime, or stand accused, you are entitled to expect that you will have appropriate access to justice.
“That means having a skilled and experienced advocate to represent you – but if Government continues to fail to invest in the area of criminal law, that can no longer be taken for granted.”