A senior lawyer has claimed that barristers can often be paid less money per hour than they would if they worked in a fast food restaurant.
Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, Chris Henley said: “Too often fees for prosecuting produce hourly rates worse than wages at fast food chains.”
Mr Henley’s concerns surround the low fixed fees in place for public barristers, many barristers earnings could slip below minimum wage when you consider the time it takes them to prepare for a case and the day in court itself.
While law can be an incredibly lucrative profession, especially in the private sector where they often bill by the hour, barristers in public criminal cases funded by the state face a different prospect.
Public prosecutors and defence barristers’ rates are set by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and most barristers are self-employed, so their gross fee goes towards paying for travel, insurance, pensions and other costs.
A junior prosecuting barrister, who could have up to a decade of experience, will receive £46.50 for a single court appearance. That appearance could cover a full eight hour day, with court, preparation and time which would work out at £5.80 which is significantly under the minimum wage.
However, junior defence barristers are paid practically double for a single court appearance.
Barristers are set to meet next week to discuss what to do about the ongoing crisis in fees.
Last year, the MoJ published a new system, banding different types of offences by the complexity and therefore how much a barrister should be paid to take them to court.
The aim of these Government changes was to ensure that barristers were paid fairly for complex cases, taking into account the increase in evidence being submitted electronically.
This new wealth of digital evidence means lawyers have far greater volumes of material to go through to prepare for a trial.
However, the Criminal Bar Association says, despite the new system, these fixed fees don’t take into account all the preparation that goes into a trial.
The association are now concerned that this will lead to many barristers turning down particularly prosecution work, which attracts lower pay, putting at risk the ability to secure convictions.
David Jacobs, Partner at Milsted Langdon, said: “The ongoing crisis regarding barrister’s fees could have a significant effect on the number of professionals taking on prosecution work in future.
“If you are concerned about the impact fees are having on you then it is important that you seek specialist advice to discuss the options available to you.”