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If you’ve been following today’s headlines online and in print, then you will have no doubt noticed some rather eye-catching figures for the salaries of legal-aid funded criminal law barristers released by the Ministry of Justice.
With phrases such as “Legal Aid fat cats” being used in print and online to describe some of the very high earnings of a tiny number of barristers, the criminal law team here at Canter Levin & Berg decided to look more closely at the figures published by the MoJ. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found that in terms of average wages, barristers in the criminal justice system earn much less than you might expect and quite apart from that, the MoJ’s calculations appear to have inflated the headline figures.
This statistical release from the Ministry of Justice reveals the actual salary figures for the country’s legal aid-funded Criminal Barristers. As you can see from the document, 4 out of 5 criminal law barristers “earn” less than £100,000 and there are significant proportions of the profession that get paid less than £20,000 a year for their work defending people accused of crimes. This is a task which Canter Levin & Berg are sure most people will agree is both very important and requires a meticulous approach, hard work and attention to detail in cases ranging from sexual assaults through to arson, dangerous driving and murder.
It is also worth pointing out that even the small number of very highly paid barristers (those working on high profile cases with long-running trials dealing with the most serious offences) will likely receive much less than £100,000 each year. As barristers are self-employed, they will have to pay VAT, at 20% as well as the many other charges a barrister is required to pay, such as professional fees (typically the costs of being part of a set of chambers), travel expenses to attend court and also payments to colleagues or assistants who may also have worked on their cases. For a more in-depth analysis of the figures and how what a barrister is paid in legal aid actually gets spent on, read this post from the Pupillage and How to Get It blog.
Pete Mitchell, one of the partners in our Criminal Law Department discussed the misrepresentation and the efforts barristers are making to highlight just how important professional legal representation is to people facing criminal charges:
“Barristers have decided individually to support an action of non-attendance at court on the morning of Monday 6th January this year to protest at the Government’s attempts to reduce access to good quality legal representation through properly qualified advocates. Continued cuts to the legal aid budget will detrimentally affect both the access to justice in England and Wales.
As solicitors we fully support this action by our colleagues at the bar. Both branches of the legal profession will continue to try and highlight to ordinary members of the public who will be the real losers in the Government’s invidious attempts to undermine the rule of law whilst continuing to lay the blame at 'Fat Cat lawyers.' This is something even their own figures demonstrate is totally incorrect.
It is no coincidence that these figures have been published at this time as part of attempts to discredit the hundreds of decent lawyers working in the criminal justice system from the real threat – which is that this Government seems intent on destroying a criminal justice system which is the envy of the world and which is a primary right of every citizen of this country.”