HAMPSHIRE barristers are pressing the Government for help because of the closure of most courts.

Local MPs Steve Brine and Caroline Nokes are among those being urged to apply pressure on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, to ensure the criminal justice system in Hampshire doesn’t collapse post-Covid-19.

Barristers are calling for five rescue measures otherwise many will go out of business.

• Expand the types of acceptable evidence required to be eligible for self-employed relief, to include those under the £50,000 threshold who don’t have 2018/2019 tax returns;

• Increase the threshold above the £50,000 trading profit for self-employed barristers, to ensure that more junior barristers are eligible for relief, going some way to ensuring the sustainability of the profession;

• Extend business rates exemption relief to barristers’ chambers;

• Provide an urgent rescue package for publicly funded barristers who provide a vital public service but are ineligible for the self-employed scheme;

• Provide an urgent rescue package for barristers’ chambers doing publicly funded work.

Edward Elton, criminal and regulatory law barrister based in Southampton, said: "As a result of Covid-19, many barristers have experienced a very significant reduction in work because, on top of the diminution of licensing work, the reduction of prosecution work and advisory work for Local Authorities, very few trials are taking place; even with jury trials resuming, the volume of work will not return in the near future because of the need to observe social distancing measures.’

Most barristers are self-employed and their union, the Bar Council, is warning MPs of the potential impact on the justice system, particularly criminal justice, of local barristers going out of business unless the Treasury does more to help.

Barristers have been identified as essential workers by the Government as they provide a public service to ensure the delivery of justice across the nation.

However, with most barristers being self-employed and many courts closed, the Bar Council has warned that many will not survive the financial impact of the lockdown and, as a result, justice will suffer.

Recent Bar Council research showed 53 per cent of self-employed barristers cannot survive six months and 74 per cent cannot survive a year unless the Government step in with support. The situation is worse for barristers who work in criminal courts with 31 per cent of criminal barristers will not be able to continue to practice past July; 69 per cent will not last six months and 88 per cent will no longer be practicing within a year. The impact is most severe on those from diverse backgrounds.

Amanda Pinto QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said: “We have been making our case directly to government throughout this crisis and are now asking MPs to help our voice be heard. Without barristers, the courts and wider justice system in this country will barely function. I hope the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer are already preparing the way to make sure we do not have a complete breakdown of social order in Britain as we emerge from this lockdown. We are galvanising barristers in Hampshire and the length and breadth of the nation to ask their local MP to write directly to the Treasury, highlighting the fact that existing measures to help the self-employed do not go far enough, as well as the risks of not stepping in to save the justice system. We must make the case to ensure that these essential workers – barristers - who have been instrumental in making sure law and order is maintained throughout this crisis, have not disappeared when we resurface from Covid-19.”