Barristers May Strike Over Legal Aid Fees

by Ralli on May 22, 2012

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Stuart Page, Associate

The Criminal Bar has it seems had its voice heard at last. All too often the press publish the fees of the highest paid solicitors and barristers from public funding but do not publish what the “average” remuneration for a 12 month period is.

Quite often a case which pays a significant amount in fees from the public purse has taken years to resolve and work upon all of the work which has been done having to be accounted for and audited so the fee has to be set against the years it may have taken to prepare.

The basic hourly rate for a solicitor who is performing legal aid work is £52-£60 per hour and from this overheads and support staff also need to be remunerated and vast amounts of regulatory auditing, reviewing and supervision have to be performed.

In addition to this courses have to be undertaken in order to maintain a solicitors right to practice and every year a fee has to be paid for a solicitors practicing certificate.

Barristers are specialist advocates with specialist training and it would be hard to imagine how a case would be presented to a jury and explained without such specialists.

It is true that the image of the barrister as a “fat cat” with a gold watch chain cigar and wig has been around and cartooned on many occasions however that is not the reality most enter the legal profession to make a difference not to their own wealth but to society and because they want to make a difference, it is hard to imagine another profession where payments have stood still for as many years.

Crime barristers are often representing the most underprivileged members of society and those who have the least so they can not afford to pay themselves.

The government has tried in the past to implement “public defenders” which failed, it will be a shame to see the job of a crime barrister consigned to a crime drama on television which could well be the case in future.

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  • Bill Ryan – Criminal Barrister

    This is a difficult time for barristers doing publicly funded criminal work. There is a persistent downward pressure on fees which means that those who are not practicing in high end crime are not well paid and many are struggling.

    For the junior criminal practitioner who has not established a decent crown court practice the fees are so low that it is hardly worth going to court in financial terms. A fee of £50 for a Magistrates Court appearance is the norm.

    Does anyone think £250 per week minus clerking fees of 10-12 % is the right sort of remuneration for someone who has spent 5 years in education and training to receive?

    Once in the Crown Court the rates get better but there are many ‘potholes’ on the route to surviving at the criminal bar.

    If a client has elected a crown court trial but it doesn’t go to trial due to the crown offering no evidence or the client pleads guilty the maximum fee payable to the barrister is £203.

    This does not change with the number of hearings so if there is a PCMH (Pleas & Case Management Hearing), a bail application and the prosecution is dropped on the day of trial or a guilty plea is entered it will mean the total fee is still £203 even though there has been three hearings and the case has been prepare or trial.

    If there are further hearings, e.g. a mention, the £203 does not change. It does happen that there are 4 or 4 court hearings on the case and still the fee remains at £203.

    It feels like the defence barrister is being punished for the prosecution running with a weak case or the client having a change of heart.

    So, a £203 fees for say three hearings and perhaps 4, 5 or more hours preparation. Don’t forget the 10-12% clerking fee payable. Around £60 per hearing net fees per hearing. I am not going to work out the hourly rate but it is not very much for this type of job.

    It is no wonder that junior barristers, without backing from their family, are leaving the profession. That sort of pay in London and probably anywhere is just untenable.

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