Robert Rinder on why he feels ‘justice is meaningless’ without legal aid support

Criminal barristers in England and Wales have voted in favour of an indefinite, uninterrupted strike.
Criminal barristers in England and Wales have voted in favour of an indefinite, uninterrupted strike.

TV judge Robert Rinder has said he would strike alongside fellow barristers because he feels that without access to legal aid “our justice is meaningless”.

Members of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) in England and Wales voted over the weekend in favour of an indefinite, uninterrupted strike from September 5.

They are embroiled in a row over jobs and Government-set fees for legal aid advocacy work – publicly funded representation for defendants who cannot afford to pay.

During Tuesday’s episode of ITV’s Good Morning Britain, barrister and TV personality Rinder spoke about why he supports the all-out strike action.

The 44-year-old said: “I am still a member of my great chambers and I would tell you I would be without question on strike.”

He clarified that the strike action is not for the private barristers who represent famous faces but the public lawyers taking on cases for everyday people through legal aid.

Reflecting on the democracy of the system, he said: “If there is no access to justice, no rule of law, talking about Margaret Thatcher, she banged on about, quite correctly, our justice is meaningless.

“Civil legal aid – gone. If you’ve got a family issue, you might be abused by your spouse – forget about it, no lawyer for you unless you’ve got money. Unless you are the ultra-privileged – forget about it.

“A kid with special educational needs – you’ve got a statutory right? No chance.”

The criminal barrister – best known for his ITV show Judge Rinder – said there is now a five-year wait for some legal aid cases due to issues with the system.

Reflecting on why he feels the legal aid system is important, he said: “In this country, one of the things that we should be most proud of is that, if you’re accused of a serious offence, as a matter of law, you get, or you did get, the same standard of defence as the prosecution.

“That meant that our justice system was safe and secure.

“Of course, it’s hard to make a case for people at home who go ‘But they’re guilty’. Well (that’s) all very well until it happens to you. Or if you’re a victim, where’s the justice there? You need good lawyers.”

Criminal barristers strike action
Barristers outside the Houses of Parliament in support of Criminal Bar Association action over Government set fees for legal aid advocacy work (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

He added: “We’re talking about the fairness of criminal justice. And I’m going to repeat this – people’s freedom.

“Being accused, wrongly perhaps of an offence, and victims. We’re now five years, in some cases, into getting a trial that’s because of the under-investment in our criminal courts for all of this time.”

Rinder said these issues and the financial pressures, particularly on new lawyers who can have up to £100,000 worth of student debt while on minimum wage salaries, can push some into going into private practice.

“The reality is they do not want to strike, they don’t go into it to be rich; they go into it because they love this country and they believe in justice under the rule of law,” he added.

“And I have to say it is a scandal and one that both parties, certainly the Labour Party, should be supporting.”