Trial lawyers in England and Wales vote to strike indefinitely

LONDON, Aug 22 (Reuters) - Lawyers in England and Wales involved in criminal trials have voted to begin striking indefinitely next month in a dispute over government funding, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said on Monday, threatening widespread disruption to court cases.

The barristers have been taking intermittent action for weeks, refusing to take on new cases or cover cases for colleagues that have overrun. The CBA said almost 80% of voting members had backed escalating that action.

They will move to an uninterrupted, indefinite walkout from Sept. 5, the day Boris Johnson's successor as prime minister is due to be announced. Previously scheduled strike action means the last working day for many will be Aug. 26, the union said.

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"It is a decision to which we have been driven after years and years of abject neglect of the Criminal Justice System and the cynical exploitation of our time, effort and goodwill by successive governments determined to deliver justice on the cheap," the CBA's leadership said in a letter to members when the strike ballot opened.

The government said the escalation was "wholly unjustified".

"This is an irresponsible decision that will only see more victims face further delays and distress," Justice Minister Sarah Dines said in a statement.

Lawyers who act in criminal court cases say real earnings have collapsed, dropping 28% since 2006, with junior barristers earning a median income of only 12,200 pounds ($14,412) in their first three years, forcing many to give up their career.

The CBA wants a 25% rise in fees for legal aid work, where government funding helps meet the costs of representation for those who cannot afford it. The government has offered barristers a 15% pay rise, but the CBA has said the proposal would not come in until the end of 2023 at the earliest.

British courts already have a backlog of some 58,000 cases, partly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The strike is the latest in a wave of labour disputes in Britain, where rail, port and airline workers have staged walkouts as pay rises fail to keep up with soaring inflation that is projected to exceed 13% this year.

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Reporting by Kylie MacLellan and Sachin Ravikumar, editing by Elizabeth Piper and Hugh Lawson

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