Government inertia on fees will have profound impact on criminal justice system

29 September 2023

Nationwide withdrawal of professional services by criminal barristers next Tuesday, October 3rd.

Final arrangements are now being put in place for The Bar of Ireland’s recommended day of action next Tuesday, October 3rd. On the first full day of the new legal year, a one-day withdrawal of professional services has been recommended by The Bar of Ireland to its members who are criminal law practitioners, in protest at the ongoing Government inertia with respect to fee restoration.

The Council of The Bar of Ireland met this week, and finalised arrangements for the unprecedented action.

This follows an announcement by The Bar of Ireland on July 12th last about the decision to make the recommendation, and a series of engagements with stakeholders across the legal sector, including the Judiciary, the Law Society, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Courts Service and others in the intervening period.  In addition, a final round of meetings was held with the justice spokespersons of all the main parties, including Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Labour and the Green Party.

Since March 2016, the 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 net effect of those pay cuts at present is that barristers engaged in criminal work are paid more than 40% 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.

Given the ongoing failure by Government to recognise the inequity of their position on this matter, as well as the impact it is having on the wider justice system, the Bar is now seeking an independent, meaningful and time-limited mechanism to determine the professional fees paid by the State to criminal practitioners in the prosecution and defence of indictable (serious) criminal matters.

In advance of next Tuesday October 3rd and a forthcoming attendance at the Oireachtas Justice Committee on the same day, Sara Phelan SC, Chair of the Council of The Bar of Ireland, said;

“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 6 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.” 

Seán Guerin SC, Char 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, with the introduction of improvement and efficiencies brought about by the EU Victims Directive and the O’Malley Review, as well as Pre-Trial Hearings and Electronic Briefs, for example.

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.”

The withdrawal of professional services by criminal barristers takes place next Tuesday October 3rd at all courthouses nationwide where criminal matters were, or are, listed to be heard, including the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin, and Courthouses in Sligo, Castlebar, Monaghan, Dundalk, Longford, Trim, Wexford, Waterford, Nenagh, Limerick, Cork, and Naas.

An Open Letter to Government calling for fairness has now garnered more than 800 signatures, from counsel, solicitors and others in the justice sphere. For more information see Law Library | Fair is Fair | Withdrawal of Services

  • For more information click here to read The Bar of Ireland’s 2024 Pre-Budget Submission.
  • Media contact:  For interviews or images please contact – Q4 Public Relations, Sinéad McGovern 087 6411725