Dominic Raab disowns £50m deal that ended ‘unwarranted’ barristers’ strike as Justice Secretary suggests it could threaten funding for victim support, drug rehab or prisoners’ education
- Dominic Raab promises not to ‘unpick’ £54m deal that ended barristers’ strike
- But Justice Secretary bemoans the added pressure it is putting on his budget
- The agreement had been made by Mr Raab’s predecessor, Brandon Lewis
Dominic Raab today promised not to ‘unpick’ the £54million deal that ended recent strike action by criminal barristers – although the Justice Secretary bemoaned the added pressure it was putting on his department’s finances.
Appearing before the House of Commons’ Justice Committee this afternoon, Mr Raab suggested the multi-million pound agreement could lead to cuts elsewhere.
He speculated about money being taken away from victim support, drug rehabilitation or education for prisoners as he continued his criticism of the ‘unwarranted’ strike action.
At the end of September, Mr Raab’s predecessor Brandon Lewis agreed to a further £54million of investment in the criminal bar and solicitors to bring to an end the criminal barristers’ strike over fees and conditions.
The walkout action had begun while Mr Raab was previously Justice Secretary – before he was sacked by ex-prime minister Liz Truss in September to be replaced by Mr Lewis.
Now Mr Raab is back in charge of the Ministry of Justice under Ms Truss’s successor Rishi Sunak, he pointedly refused to credit Mr Lewis for ending the barristers’ strike.
Criminal barristers went on strike earlier this year in a dispute over legal aid. The industrial action ended after the Government agreed to a £54m deal
Dominic Raab bemoaned the added pressure the multi-million pound agreement was putting on his department’s finances
Labour MP Karl Turner asked Mr Raab, if he hadn’t been sacked by Liz Truss, whether the strike action would still be continuing
Mr Raab pointedly refused to credit his predecessor Brandon Lewis for ending the barristers’ strike
Asked why it had taken Mr Lewis only a few weeks to end the Government’s dispute with barristers, Mr Raab told the committee: ‘I thought the strike action… although I’m sympathetic to the pressures on the criminal bar, I didn’t think it was warranted.
‘And by the way, the cost of what it took to settle that is over £50million.
‘So whilst I’m not going to backtrack on a deal that was previously done, the idea that a magic wand could be thrown at this, or it was just a question of a diplomatic fix or niceties is not the case.’
Mr Raab appeared to further disown the deal agreed by his predecessor as he expressed his frustration at the added pressure it was putting on the Ministry of Justice budget at a time of wider Whitehall spending cuts.
Asked by Labour MP Karl Turner whether he believed, if he hadn’t been temporarily removed from his Cabinet role by Ms Truss, whether the strike would still be going on, Mr Raab replied: ‘I made my position clear, I don’t look back on it and think that that was wrong.
‘Because I think, otherwise, you’ve got to explain where the over £50million is going to come from.
‘On the other hand, it having been settled, I don’t believe in unpicking deals that have been done. I don’t think that’s quite right as a matter of faith.
‘But don’t pretend for a moment, or I certainly don’t believe for a moment, that that was a warranted strike.
‘I think it did significant damage – I think the CBA didn’t behave in a responsible way.
‘And the £50million pressure that’s put on budgets on top of the Autumn Statement is something I’ve got to then find.
‘Where would you say that £50million should come from? Should it come from victim support? Should it come from drug rehabilitation? Should it come from education for prisoners?
‘Those are the real problems in the real world that Government ministers have to grapple with.
‘That money just doesn’t come out of thin air.’
The Justice Secretary also told committee this year’s barristers’ strike had an ‘impact’ on the backlog of Crown Court cases stemming from the Covid crisis
Mr Raab added that industrial action by criminal solicitors – which is currently being considered as part of the wider dispute over pay for legal aid work – was not ‘the right thing to do now’.
The Justice Secretary said he understood ‘the pressure on pay and fees’.
But he added: ‘If you want to make the case for more money than we’re committed to, tell me where it comes from.
‘Does it come from the support we’re providing for the victims of violent crime, or indeed the victims of rape?
‘Does it come from the drug rehabilitation money that we’re putting in and I’m trying to protect?
‘Does it come from the money I’m putting into ending or reducing reoffending by dealing with homelessness for prisoners?
‘It’s got to come from somewhere.’
The Justice Secretary also told committee this year’s barristers’ strike had an ‘impact’ on the backlog of Crown Court cases stemming from the Covid crisis.
Asked whether the Government was still hopeful of achieving a target of reducing that backlog to 53,000 cases by March 2025, Mr Raab said: ‘We’re going to strive every sinew to hit it. But I can’t pretend the impact of the CBA strike has not affected that.
‘We were on a downward trajectory and it’s gone back up. At the end of September, the figure was 62,500.’