This Friday, March 7th the criminal bar goes on strike.
What is proposed is a day on which defence barristers will not work (save in exceptionally sensitive cases involving children or vulnerable witnesses), followed by an indefinite period in which they will not accept “returns;” that is they will not take over briefs originally given to a barrister who for reasons of another case over-running, illness, etc becomes unavailable.
Assuming that the “no returns” policy is applied by a large number of barristers – and all the indications are that support is practically universal – the effect will be virtually immediate. Many defendants will turn up at court to find that they have no advocate.
Judges will have to decide whether to insist that trials go ahead with unrepresented defendants. Most will refuse to allow that to happen. Even if they try to proceed prosecution barristers – mindful of their professional and ethical obligations – will refuse to prosecute trials in which defendants are unrepresented.
The disruption to the courts will be immense.