Barristers in England and Wales have begun the first day of strike action over pay and conditions – affecting cases in Swindon.

Members of the Criminal Bar Association are walking out today in protest over low Legal Aid rates.

They are calling on the government to increase fees by 25 per cent, with the rates at the moment often leaving many junior barristers taking home less than the minimum wage.

Barristers from across the region gathered outside Bristol Crown Court at 10am.

CBA members voted earlier this month in favour of strike action – with 81.5 per cent supporting days of action.

It is an escalation from the ‘no returns’ policy which started in April, where barrister have refused to take on last minute cases handed to them by colleagues.

This week, the majority of defence barristers will refuse to work on Monday and Tuesday. Next week, they will not work for three days, building up to a week-long strike from Monday, July 18. They will also continue the no returns policy and not accept any new cases.

The strike has already affected Swindon Crown Court – with one long-running trial not sitting today or tomorrow.

Kirsty Brimelow, vice chairwoman of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), which represents barristers in England and Wales, said from outside Manchester Crown Court: “The Criminal Bar Association has repeatedly warned the Government that the huge decline in real incomes at the criminal bar poses the most serious threat to the British legal system in decades.

“We have made our case over and over again to Government but our warnings continue to fall on deaf ears.

“They have no solution to saving the criminal justice system. This is a national crisis which is of Government making and it must be dealt with as a national emergency.

“We cannot allow further attacks on our profession when we know the reality of the crumbling courts and junior barristers, who walked away long before this action.”

Speaking outside Bristol Crown Court, barrister Kannan Siva said more than one in four barristers have been “driven out of the jobs they loved because they simply can’t afford to stay”.

He said: “For junior criminal barristers to be paid below minimum wage, a median income of just £12,200 a year, is not only scandalous but it will choke off the supply of the next generation of advocates – that pool of advocates that will help society and become our future judges.

“And it means that victims and defendants will suffer years and years of waiting to get justice in court.”

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said: “It’s regrettable that the Criminal Bar Association is striking.

“I encourage them to agree the proposed 15% pay rise, which would see a typical barrister earn around £7,000 more a year.

“Their actions will only delay justice for victims.”

However, barristers are angry the “pay rise” would not kick in immediately or apply to backlogged cases, and that the actual increase would be much less.