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Barristers’ strike will bring Galway criminal courts to a halt

Galway criminal courts will grind to a halt next Tuesday (October 3) if a strike planned by criminal barristers proceeds.

And now Galway solicitors have thrown their weight behind barristers’ campaign for better rates of pay in criminal cases.

The Galway Solicitors Bar Association issued a statement this week in support of local barristers who are ‘downing tools’ for a day on Tuesday.

Solicitors from Galway will liaise with colleagues in Dublin this coming Friday to agree a strategy of protest that could also result in solicitors withdrawing their labour in solidarity with barristers.

Galway Solicitors Bar Association urged Government to use Budget 2024 to adequately invest in the criminal legal aid system.

“Continued inaction will directly contribute to the creation of an inequitable legal system made up of those who have ready access to legal representation, and those who do not, whether that is due to affordability, or geography.

“Access to justice, and consequently access to legal representation, is a fundamental human right and, therefore, every effort must be made to avoid a two-tier system.

“We must ensure that we have a sustainable criminal defence profession to protect the constitutional rights of citizens to legal advice in criminal cases, including the right to legal representation where a person cannot afford to pay for it,” its statement said.

Solicitor John Martin, vice president of the organisation, told the Tribune that many practitioners were choosing to leave criminal law because the remuneration is not commensurate with the demands of the role.

He pointed out that fees for criminal legal work in the District Court and Circuit Court were cut during the economic crash over a decade ago and have not been restored.

In 2009, the day one legal aid fee in the District Court was €271.13 but this was slashed to €210.50 in 2012, and it has remained that level since.

“This is despite inflation and despite reforms and changes to work practices in the profession including increased workload, both in quantity and seriousness of cases, and rising overheads. The lack of investment by Government is creating an unviable criminal legal aid system with clear consequences for access to justice,” Galway Solicitors Bar Association’s statement said.

The Law Society has campaigned to have the fees restored but successive Ministers for Justice have taken no action.

It’s understood if the strike proceeds next week as planned, all criminal cases on Tuesday will be adjourned.