Home » Uncategorized » Does the Bar represent good value for money to the taxpayer? By Marc Brown, Barrister at 2 Pump Court.

Does the Bar represent good value for money to the taxpayer? By Marc Brown, Barrister at 2 Pump Court.

I have been a barrister specialising in publicly funded criminal work for eleven years.   Throughout my career I have both prosecuted and defended.  Virtually everything I have earned has been paid for by the state.

In recent times I have become very angry at the suggestions in the press that legal aid lawyers earn a fortune.  I have been prompted to write this article by a letter in The Times on Saturday in which the ill-informed author expressed, as a fact, the wholly baseless assertion that Legal Aid lawyers earn at least £125 per hour.  We don’t.  I wanted to write this article in the hope that those who are not in the profession, in particular our uniquely unqualified head, the Lord Chancellor, would see it and be better informed of the true position.

There is an undercurrent flowing against access to justice.  Methodically and quite deliberately, the Government is dismantling the legal aid system.   The populist press is aiding them in this.  The poorest and most vulnerable in society will lose.  Victims will lose.  The rule of law will lose.  Democracy will lose.  Society will be all the poorer for it.

Because of the way all of this is being presented, society at large doesn’t really understand what is happening.  By the time that the first serious miscarriages of justice occur, it will be too late.

The letter written in Saturday’s Times provides an example of just how misinformed the general public is.

I think it is time for an honest debate about legal aid remuneration for both the solicitors profession and the bar.  I am tired of the now familiar routine of the MOJ releasing the supposedly highest earning legal aid barrister’s income just before another round of cuts is announced.  Helped along in the propaganda campaign by the Daily Mail publishing pictures of those individuals in their full-bottomed wigs.

We all know that there are a few individuals that do very well out of legal aid defence work.  Those individuals work extremely hard, on the most complex and important cases.  They are at the very top of their game.  We know that those figures do not reflect earnings, they reflect turnover, and may relate to several years work paid up in one year.

So what then is the truth?  The truth is that the vast majority of us earn a modest income.  In order to earn that income we generally work exceptionally hard. In my experience I can say that in the past year I have worked well over 60 hours a week.  Those who know me well, know that the past 5 months of my life have been occupied by a case that has seen me working 17 hour days consistently.

The fee income we receive for the work we do reflects turnover.  Each one of us is a micro business. At the independent Bar we are all self employed, and have overheads in order to run the business.  Typically those overheads are about a third of fee income.  The remainder is net profit; which is analogous to salary, except there is no pension, no healthcare, no holiday pay, and no employment protection.

I am prepared to let the public know what a busy junior barrister of eleven years call earns.

I am not “minted”.    I live in a modest but comfortable semi detached house in Essex.  I don’t drive a Bentley Continental; I have a Renault grand scenic.  My wife is an assistant headteacher.  Between us we live a comfortable middle class existence.   Every year we take a holiday, but we don’t spend it living the high life in fancy hotels, we tow a trailer tent round Europe, because that’s what we like to do.  Our children attend the local state school.

In terms of work, I am generally in court every day either conducting trials for the prosecution or defence, or appearing on the whole range of other hearings that occur in the Crown court. When I get home of an evening I will generally spend between seven o’ clock and midnight working on upcoming cases or the next day.  Frequently because of the way the warned list system in the Crown court works I will be preparing a case for trial the following day in circumstances where I was given the brief at about 6pm.

My last set of accounts declared a net profit of about £68,000. That figure is broadly consistent with the preceding two years. By comparison a GP earns between £53,000 and £81,000 (but gets a pension etc).   I think £68,000 is a reasonable and fair income for the work I do.   If I divide that figure over the hours that I work I end up with an hourly rate of about £23 per hour.  I have no complaints about my income if I am able to sustain it.  I do have a concern that it will not keep up with inflation as fees go down and the cost of living goes up.

The fact is some things are inherently costly but necessary to maintain a free and democratic society.  If the rule of law is to be upheld we need justice and justice is expensive.  Of course the state doesn’t pay my net income, it pays the fees from which my net income is derived.  It actually works out at about £33 per hour. The state can get my services for £33 per hour.  That, it seems to me, is pretty good value for money.  If I doubled it, it would still represent good value for money.  If I doubled it again, it would still be substantially less than lawyers undertaking commercial work would charge.

The Government wants to get rid of the criminal bar.  It wants to put criminal legal aid work out to tender to the lowest bidder.  The effect will be that the lowest bidder will get the work.  Quality will become irrelevant.  Large national firms or alternative business structures will get the contracts.  They will have to provide advocacy services at a fraction of the costs that are now paid.   The problem with this is that if the cost is driven down, there will come a point very quickly where there are insufficient people of even the barest competence to do the work.  We have seen this happen very recently with the provision of interpreter services to our courts.

People who train for a career in the law, do so because it is a fascinating career. Those people are generally amongst the brightest in our society.   People who choose criminal law know when they go into it that it will not earn them anything like the money their colleagues who go into corporate or commercial law will earn.    Lawyers who work in criminal law do it because it is a public service.  The problem is that a fascinating career in public service which doesn’t pay enough to sustain a modest standard of living is not a career that a sufficient number of people will chose.   It follows that if cost is driven down the work will end up being conducted by people who are not sufficiently competent to do it.

Why are talented lawyers needed within the criminal justice system?

I vividly remember my enthusiasm and passion for the work when I first started out.  I remember attending various Magistrates’ courts and conducting trials for very little money indeed.  Those of us who do the work know that’s how we all start out.  As time marches on, our clerks attempt to advance our careers by giving us trickier cases.  Solicitors with whom we have contact get to know us.  They see us in court, and before very long you begin to receive instructions in your own right.  It is a steady process, throughout which the skills required to conduct criminal advocacy are developed, the rules of evidence are learned, and good and sound judgment is obtained.

The bar code of conduct forbids us from taking cases that we are not competent to do, and so we only take the more serious or difficult cases when we have acquired the skills to do them well.  This way the system ensures that the any defendant is properly represented by someone competent to deal with his case.  This minimises abortive trials, successful appeals, and miscarriages of justice.

The same applies to prosecution work.  Any advocate conducting a trial should be competent to undertake the work.  Incompetent advocacy leads to guilty people being acquitted and innocent people being convicted.

So why should defendants be properly represented at a cost to the state?

The answer to this question can be expressed in one word.  Confidence.

If the public are to have any confidence in the system of justice operated by the state; it has to believe that the system works in ensuring the conviction of the guilty and the acquittal of the innocent.

As lawyers we have all been asked the question “How do you defend someone you believe to be guilty” and we all know the stock answer. If a person against whom the state brings a charge insists that he or she is not guilty, the state must prove that they are so.  That means that the evidence against that person has to be tested.  It means that the defendant’s version of events has to be put and considered and either accepted or rejected.  If that does not happen, and a defendant’s case is not properly examined, how do we know he is guilty?  If we are not sure that the people we are locking up are guilty people and that the people we are letting go free are the innocent ones; how can we have any confidence that the system convicts the guilty and acquits the innocent? It is, perhaps, symptomatic of how little understanding the general public have about the criminal law, and the importance of an independent bar, that none of us ever seem to be called upon to field the more troubling question “How do you prosecute someone you believe may be innocent?” 

Public confidence in the rule of law is an essential feature of a working democracy.   Competent talented lawyers are an integral and necessary part of the criminal justice system.  Without them the system would fail.  The independent criminal bar provides the vast majority of lawyers providing advocacy services in the criminal justice system at Crown court level.   I say that they represent good value to the taxpayer.  This Government should think long and hard about the destruction of the independent Bar because once it is gone, it will be gone forever.   It provides an excellent resource of talent.  It provides value for money.  It provides justice.

What price justice? Or should I say:  what price injustice, Mr Grayling?


25 thoughts on “Does the Bar represent good value for money to the taxpayer? By Marc Brown, Barrister at 2 Pump Court.

  1. Pingback: Save UK Justice – Part two – Fat Cats | Harriet Stack

  2. Concisely and eloquently put. The only trouble is that on this forum we are preaching to the choir. We somehow need to get our message across to the wider Sun and Daily Mail reading public who perhaps regard us as fat cat apologists for rapists and kiddie porn peddlers rather than dedicated and passionate professionals playing a part in ensuring justice is done (ie: by ensuring the guilty are prosecuted and the not guilty are acuitted). That message also needs to be rammed home to the Ministry of (in)Justice and the minister who one contributor rightly described as “uniquely unqualified”.

  3. Dear Jamthes,

    You think that barristers doing publicly-funded criminal work are overpaid. I am one. I do not think I am overpaid for what I do, but then I wouldn’t. Do you think that you are overpaid for what you do? Of course not. No-one does.

    More worryingly, you think that the public interest would be served by ‘slashing the subsidies’ to (by which you mean, cutting the pay of) other ‘overpaid’ professions such as doctors and dentists.

    Be careful what you wish for.

    The history of introducing ‘market forces’ to core public services – privatising them or introducing ‘competition’ with a view to driving down prices (and therefore lowering taxes) is a history of failure. It simply does not work. Do you ‘go private’ for your health or dental care? If you can afford to, and choose so to do, all well and good. And if you do, do you choose the cheapest doctor or dentist you can find? No. When it comes to such ‘essentials’ you select by quality first, price second. And if you were ever wrongly accused of a crime, perhaps your liberty was at stake, and you needed representation, would you go for the cheapest barrister you could find? I wouldn’t.

    If, on the other hand, like most of us – yes, barristers too – you rely on NHS medical and dental care, wouldn’t you want the doctor or dentist that the state provided for you to have been selected, and employed, not by reference to price – what s/he was willing to work for – but by qualifications and experience, in other words, quality? Would you be happy if NHS staff selection criteria were determined by reference to minimum quality thresholds, but primarily by price? Again, I doubt it.

    “Ah, yes,” you say, “but lets talk about barristers. I’m a law-abiding citizen. I don’t get any benefit out of having a high-quality criminal justice system, and I resent paying top-dollar to solicitors and barristers for what Mr Grayling calls ‘a Rolls-Royce service’ for the benefit of prolific criminals with vast criminal records.”

    Can I answer this point – several points, actually.

    First, you are wrong to assume, as you seem to do, that everyone accused of a crime has in fact committed it, and its only down to slippery lawyers that anyone ever ‘gets off’. Jessica Clarke has answered this one, and I would add only this. Juries are not stupid, and barristers know it. Try and hoodwink a jury, and you’ll be found out. Barristers don’t do it.

    Second, if you think that the criminal justice system, solicitors and barristers is a luxury for others that you simply pay for, think again. I say that for two reasons. One, your assumption that you will never need a legal aid criminal lawyer (or two) is unsound. I can tell you that although most of my defence clients are indeed the repeat offenders to whom you make reference, by no means all of them are. You may think that you are a law-abiding citizen, and will never commit a crime that could land you in jail. Wrong. Actually, a sizeable proportion of homicides are committed by people just like you (and me). If you drive a car, you could kill someone any day of the week, by what you might regard as a momentary loss of concentration. You might find a burglar in your house and stab them, or come home to find your wife in the arms of another man, and stab them both. You (or your wife or husband) might, after a stressful day at work, when your baby son or daughter (whom you love dearly) just won’t stop screaming, and you shake them to death. Or maybe you just ‘pay the plumber in cash’ – that’s called tax and VAT fraud. You may think you are above all that, but I can tell you that I have seen your like many times, sobbing, telling me how they can’t understand how it happened to them. And if you did come to me, how would you feel if, halfway through you explaining your case to me, I said “I’m sorry, its 5.00, I finish now.” or, at your trial, “I’m sorry I wasn’t here yesterday. I didn’t feel well.” Welcome to the future – Tescolaw.

    Secondly, and far more importantly, if you think that barristers are irrelevant to your life and overpaid, remember that barristers prosecute as well as defend. I have already said that barristers don’t (contrary to what you may think) employ slippery tactics to get ‘known to be guilty’ defendants off. They help keep yours and my streets safe by ensuring that dangerous criminals are robustly (and fairly) prosecuted. Though you may not notice what we do for you, you in fact have a very real interest in maintaining a criminal justice system that is the envy of the world; one that has good barristers – on both sides – and good judges.
    Criminal barristers do not complain that they don’t get paid the huge sums that our colleagues doing private-client commercial work do. And it is not possible to compare what criminal barristers receive with, say, a teacher’s, or a civil servant’s salary, the remuneration element of which is but one part of a package which includes paid holidays, no loss of earnings if sick, fixed hours, a pension, plus things that I have to pay for, such as a building to work in, light, heat, telephone, photocopier – you name it. My fee provides not just an income for me, but my share of the salaries of my six staff, the rent on the building I work from, and all the services mentioned. I don’t get paid holidays, and I have to fund my own pension etc. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not grumbling; I’m just saying that you can’t really compare sheep with goats and ask which is better, or more valuable.

    I don’t ask for your sympathy any more than I ask for your thanks for what I do for you. I help to keep you safe, and I am there if you need me. And you might.

    The Minister for Justice, Chris Grayling, is proposing to change the structure of criminal lawyers’ pay in a way that will mean that I, a barrister in independent practice, available for hire by prosecutor or defendant, and willing to do my lawful best for either, might not be there for much longer. Your streets might be kept safe from wrongdoers, or you might find yourself looking for your representation to a firm of lorry-drivers (Eddie Stobart) or shopkeepers (Tesco, the Co-Op). Obviously, I am concerned about that prospect, but I hope I have demonstrated that you ought to be, too.

    I have taken a little time to respond to your Comment. You deserve that. The views you express are commonly-held, and you articulate them with clarity. If you want to discuss them further, I will be happy to do so. In fact, I would welcome the opportunity to continue the discussion in a more public forum. Email me: ianswest@o2.co.uk and I’ll tell you what I have in mind. Follow me on Twitter, if you like: @ianswest.


    Ian West
    Fountain Chambers

  4. Jamthes- “look after rapists crooks and swindlers” I can only assume by that comment that you have taken all those charged to be guilty despite 12 members of the public acquitting around 40% of them every day. You may have missed the statistic reported this week about the alarming number of false rape allegations made every day in this country, you may wish to look it up and then consider exactly who you may want to defend you against such an allegation- a barrister of around 10 years call who has spent years gaining experience in these sorts of case or a solicitor trained by tescos who never intended to be an advocate but finds themselves being pushed to take cases beyond their ability because a) they are not bound by a professional code that ensures they have the right experience and b) they are employed as therefore under pressure by their employers to take the case because it will be good for profits.

    If you are still convinced that all defendants are indeed rapists, crooks and swindlers then it must be the case that they have their victims – rape victims, old people who have been swindled – who would they prefer prosecute these rapist and swindlers? The answer is of course the person most likely to secure a conviction and that again is, in most case a member of the independent Bar.

    Let me give you some examples of why we are extremely good value for money – I do not know of a single member of the bar who has taken a sick day and by that I don’t mean a douvet day I mean a day off when they are actually sick. I have had food poisoning and been up all night vomitting and yet still managed to make it to court. Nor will you ever hear the word ‘sorry I’ve got child care commitments’. Barristers are barristers first and foremost and very little if anything will prevent us from getting to court when we are due there. If BVT is allowed to go ahead and the courts are filled with employees of ‘super firms’ or Eddie stobart lawyers then I can guarantee you will not see this level of commitment.
    I can also guarantee that they will not work as hard as we do – if you pay someone a salary then they have to have set hours, you will generally find that they will work those hours and not much more. Barristers work until the work is done and done well. If this means getting out of court at 4:30 then working until midnight then so be it, that is our job and a job we take enormous pride in. I don’t wish to do down those employed advocates as many share our ethic, too many however do not. They did not chose to be barrister as we did and they are therefore less prepared to take the hours that come with the territory.
    I am 32, I cannot even begin to afford to buy a house or even a tiny flat. I am in the crown court everyday and usually conduct a trial a week. On my last tax bill I had around 30k taxable income. We are not fat cats. Yes there need to be cuts, we have taken those cuts – our fees have not risen with inflation since the 90’s and recently we took a 13% actual cut. This is far more than any other profession has taken. The only reason we are still here is because we are passionate about our work and will stay as long as it is possible.
    Our criminal justice system is admired throughout the world and rightly so, it has existed for many hundreds of years. Great barristers make great judges and great judges shape our society. If we lose this system then we will never get it back. The effects may not be felt by all at first but soon the second rate advocates making second rate judges making second rate decisions will be felt and by the time it is felt there will be nothing we can do about it.

    We are not important people but we do an important job and one that society needs us to keep doing.

  5. This is a very interesting article. I will break with the mould and disagree though. Why should the state pay? Why should taxpayers, including teachers, cleaners, cooks and nurses on £14,000 a year, or £19,000 a year care that you invested £30,000 in your career? Why should the cost of be thrown at their feet? And of course, why is it relevant that you earn a fraction of the commercial bar? The Commercial bar charges what the market sets. If you abolish the state controlled (and, in fact, state created) criminal legal market then the same would apply. You can charge according to what the market would bear. And are you worried that your rates will plummet once you have to fight it out in open competition?

    What I object to most is the lie perpetrated time and again by publicly funded lawyers, that cuts will mean that “the poorest and most vulnerable in society will lose. Victims will lose. The rule of law will lose. Democracy will lose. Society will be all the poorer for it.” What utter drivel. You forgot to mention yourself and your legally aided silks, top notch juniors and yes, minted solicitors.

    The people that generally benefit from criminal legal aid are not society’s most vulnerable, they are prolific criminals, who are highly regarded repeat customers for lawyers. The majority of money is thrown at people with vast criminal records and the gravy train of hangers-on who have built up private fortunes from public money. This is an anathema to what most people regard as being public service. We pay teachers £30,000 to teach our children and pay you £57,000 to defend and look after rapists, crooks and swindlers.

    I agree though doctors, dentists and the other overpaid ‘professions’ should face the same slashing of state subsidies. We don’t own or operate loss-making coal mines to provide jobs for working men, why should we subsidise jobs for middle class barristers, doctors and the like? This is the free market. And the free market is democracy, not the rule of law, which is code for protecting the club of well-fed barristers.

    • If ‘Jamthes’ had chosen to pen his response in the cold light of day rather than (as I suspect) after a skinful in the pub he might have thought twice before posting it. Nonetheless, it is a valuable contribution because it encapsulates the ill-thought out attitude of many who take for granted the civilised nature of the society in which they live – those who believe that a fully developed democracy, and all the protections it affords, is the product of a natural state of affairs. It is not. It is the product of societal evolution where, over hundreds of years, principles and the methods of implementing them are tried and tested, adopted or rejected, according to what has been found to work and what has not. The legal system of any developed nation is a microcosm of that process and yet it seems that in no field more so than criminal law do people, not trained within it, feel able to pass comment and provide opinion on quick fix solutions. Perhaps this is because everybody understands the basic concept of a murder or a theft. They don’t of course know of the 3000 pages in the criminal practitioner’s bible (Archbold), the contents of which no individual lawyer can hope to commit to memory within a lifetime of practice.

      Those like Jamthes who recommend sweeping changes to institutions such as the independent publicly funded Bar, risk sweeping away entirely a tried, tested and essential element of the criminal justice system. “How so” he may say, “I’m just endorsing an alternative and fairer model of payment, not the eradication of the advocate.” The stark reality though is that under his (and the government’s) proposal the quality of advocate will be so diminished as to damage the quality of justice produced by the system.

      He opines that the way forward is through abolition of the “state created criminal legal market” and the justifiable exposure of those cosseted lawyers to proper market forces that would, in turn establish, the market rate – just like the commercial Bar. What that ignores, of course, is the vast difference in financial means between the consumers in those polarised markets. Consumers in the commercial legal market tend to have money and those in the criminal legal market (defendants) do not – or none that the government considers can legitimately be used to fund defence representation. To suggest that they should become the single source from which any trained professional receives the totality of his income is tantamount to suggesting that he should work for free. If that becomes the market rate, then it won’t be long before the pool of suitably skilled lawyers who are able or prepared to work for that rate has all but evaporated. If that sounds uncharitable or avaricious please bear in mind that not many people can afford to work for nothing. Still fewer are prepared to do so after having invested many years and financial resources in qualifying as a lawyer. The result will be defendants representing themselves in serious cases, and how is that to be reconciled with the notion of a sophisticated democracy? Nobody would expect a dental patient to remove his own wisdom tooth.

      Alternatively, if Jamthes is simply agreeing with the government proposal that large outsourcing companies should become paymaster to the subcontracted advocate then the position is little improved. Corporate entities like G4S and Capita maximise profit by securing a contract and outsourcing provision of the actual service to the lowest bidder. Judging by past government contracts, quality does not appear to feature in the equation, hence the fiasco over Applied Language Solutions.
      They may well find a pool of advocates who are prepared to work for the derisory sums that will be offered but they won’t find sufficient numbers of people with the appropriate level of ability and experience. This will not worry Jamthes and his like. He asks;

      “Why should taxpayers (etc.) care that you invested £30k in your career?
      Why should the cost of be thrown at their feet ?”

      Leave aside for a moment the obvious answer that it is precisely because we HAVE funded our own training that its cost has not been “thrown at the feet of the tax payer” – something that cannot be said of the medical profession.

      No, it’s the indignant tone of those questions and the dismissal of the term ‘professions’ by placing it in inverted comas, that reveals Jamthes’ and many like him begrudge not the alleged overpayment of the professions but their very existence.

      This, in turn, mutates into his thinly veiled objection, not so much to the amount that defence advocates are paid, but the fact that the state pays any lawyer at all to “look after” rapists, crooks and swindlers. It is easy to be repulsed at the crimes that some are accused of and vent one’s anger at those who represent their cause at public expense but remember this; the money is not spent “looking after” them, it is spent in operating a system that those who govern us have deemed, over the course of generations, to be the fairest way of processing allegations of crime. If public money is spent in accusing somebody of crime then it is only fair that it is spent (if they are of insufficient means) on allowing them to properly defend themselves against that accusation.

      Crime is an immutable facet of humanity. It will never go away. A legal system will always be needed to deal with it when – not if – it arises. Good lawyers will always be needed to operate that system if it is to be fair and effective. No amount of irritable protest will alter that state of affairs. In starving the system of the resources it needs, by giving publicly funded lawyers a kicking, society will be cutting its nose off to spite its face. Yes, those lawyers will be financially poorer (something Jamthes thinks we are afraid to say) but if they are too poor then future generations of suitably qualified lawyers won’t bother to join their ranks. Society WILL lose in the same way it has lost in other arenas where failure to fund an institution properly has lead to it being staffed by the incompetent.

      Skimping on a system of justice, the population’s confidence in which dictates the safety, stability and fairness of a society, is something that should be a cause for great concern not celebration.

    • I am reluctant to dive into this pool of ignorance but let’s take on “Jamthes” on his own terms and assume that the independent Bar are on a gravy train of defending those with vast criminal records who therefore do not deserve any public funding. Let’s ignore every flaw and assumption in his argument for a moment.

      Now then dear Jamthes, the majority of my practice is prosecuting the rapists, crooks and swindlers that you think should be behind bars without the inconvenience of competent representation … I’m sorry but somebody has to do it. Unfortunately the “market price” for my services is set by a monopoly supplier, the CPS, who for the last 20 years have pegged rates at a lower rate than that paid to defence advocates and inevitably they will continue to be so set. Despite the public ignorance of the cuts to CPS and police funding and the diversion of criminals into non-conviction disposals, my morale has not been completely sapped, and I enjoy working with competent caseworkers, lawyers and investigators.

      When the future market that you envisage demands that the prosecutor of your rapist, crook, or swindler, should be paid no morethan a starting teacher, do you dear Jamthes believe that competent and intelligent people will have any interest in continuing in the job? Or might you concede that prosecuting the guilty (fairly and justly – how quaint those terms are in a market place) is a public service that demands competence and experience and rates that attract the best people to the job?

      So Jamthes I look forward to the day when Eddie Stobart prosectutes the case in which you are victim of crime; perhaps only then will you see the incompetence and inefficiency which the market brings to the job, prosecuting or defending.

      • Ben,

        I couldn’t agree more. The point you make is one that I have been hammering away at in the CBA (and to Maura McGowan, when she came to Middlesbrough last week) that we need to dispel the perception of barristers as being defence lawyers (and slippery ones at that). This mis-perception pervades government too – and they should know better. Barristers are regarded as part of ‘the defence community’ and thus excluded from the Criminal Justice Board. (This is a matter that MMcG is taking up, by the way.)

        We, individuals and our representative bodies, such as the CBA and the BC, need to do more to make Jamthes – and he speaks eloquently (but msguidedly) for many law-abiding citizens – appreciate the value of a strong, independent, Bar: that it is a resource for both the prosecution and the defence, and a pool of excellence from which the judiciary is drawn. Jamthes needs to understand that it is very much in his interest, as someone who no doubt enjoys living in a peaceful, civilised, society, that, when we prosecute, in a very real sense, we ‘represent’ him, and everyone – doing our bit to maintain that society. I don’t enjoy seeing my taxes being spent on defending criminals any more than Jamthes does, but I do understand that if I want to live in a civilised society, I must pay that price, and happily do so. In China, the police summarily execute people whom they believe to be guilty of crime. Doing that here would cut my taxes, and Jamthes’ too, but do we want to live in a society like that? I know that I don’t.

        Ian West.

  6. Pingback: Does the Bar represent good value for money to the taxpayer? By Marc Brown, Barrister at 2 Pump Court. | ALISON GRAHAM-WELLS - This Much I Know

  7. Excellent article Marc. It covers so many of the questions I am regularly asked by my non-lawyer friends. It is definitely time all barristers join together and do what we are all trained to do: make a persuasive argument … Not just to protect ourselves but, more importantly, to save our justice system from being callously and needlessly destroyed by those who clearly struggle to understand the concept of ‘public service’. Your article helps us to do just that. Thank you.

  8. An excellent article Marc and obviously very true both in fact and pessimistic prediction. The Bar MUST fight against this outrage before it is too late.

  9. An interesting read. Personally don’t think criminal lawyers are remunerated too highly for the work they do, hours they put in etc and hence why I jumped ship because I was sick of working like a dog for an OK salary…

  10. Marc,

    An excellent piece. I hope it gets wide exposure. I fear, however, that it will not. The author of the letter to the Times will not read it, or not here, anyway. Probably, only other barristers will read it, and they will empathise, but empathy and public sympathy are two very different things.

    The ignorance of those we serve is immensely frustrating, but we should not be surprised by it. The only time most law-abiding folk see what a criminal barrister does is if they get called for jury service. The fact is, I’m afraid, that we will never get the public to love us. The best we can hope for is that, if we have to engage in direct action (and I think we will, or we’re finished) we are prepared and ready to deal with the government spin machine that will be deployed against us. And we will be.

    We will be portrayed as the wreckers of a quality assurance scheme, complacent and arrogant. In response, we must be able to demonstrate that we are acting in the public interest, and that we are for, not against, assured standards of quality. That means showing our willingness to engage in constructing a scheme that REALLY delivers quality, and that the price is affordable. The spend on criminal legal aid for barristers in the AGFS is actually falling, both in actual and real terms: about £270m last year.

    We must also ‘accentuate the positive’ in the eyes of the public, by emphasising that barristers, although we are regarded by our ignorant Lord Chancellor as being part of ‘the defence community’ (and therefore not worthy of a seat on the new Criminal Justice Board, tasked with identifying inefficiencies in the criminal justice syatem) prosecute as well as defend. We do not spend our days, and taxpayers’ money getting ‘known to be guilty’ defendants off. Our advocacy skills ensure that the guilty are convicted, and we serve the public by helping to keep dangerous criminals off our streets (and at very reasonable rates, too). If the independent bar disappeared, the CPS would lose an invaluable resource. Who would do Keir Starmer’s tricky (or ill-paid) cases then? But seriously, the CPS ought to be as concerned as we are about the potential consequences of Grayling’s ill-conceived plans to save a ha’porth of tar. Rest assured that we be pointing all of this out to the DPP. Lets hope he gets the message, and allies himself in the battle that lies ahead, with the profession from which he came.

    In the meantime, Marc, do not become disheartened. You are not alone, and remember – the CBA loves you, even if Worcester Woman, or Mrs Angry of Kent, doesn’t!

    Ian West.

  11. Well done. Demonstrates exactly where the vast majority of the profession are.

    The Government and the public at large do not understand the savings that we produce. Effective and competent representation reduce delays and streamline the process. Particularly in our advisory capacity where we spend large amounts of our time (in free conferences) advising the client about the strength of the case and the likely sentence that ultimately leads to a guilty plea.

  12. Excellent account of your trade. Hope its read by public at large. I have a similar PR problem as an injury lawyer often called ambulance chaser. Whilst i can not right as well as you, you have given me food for thoughts

  13. An excellent article, Needs to be diffused to the public at large to show them what is happening and what will happen if nothing is done

  14. Thank you for the information. I hold my hands up to believing the hype. Now I see the other side of the argument I have changed my opinion. I am too far down the food chain to be able to help you get what you deserve, but I appreciate the knowledge you have just given me.

  15. Thank you for this useful article Marc. It summarises once again the extent of work undertaken by the bar and its importance. In my opinion, I think that individuals that take on complex and demanding work should be remunerated accordingly. It is easy to stand at the sidelines and say that criminal lawyers are overpaid. However, as the reply points out of Scott Smith, to get to this stage most have us have spent £30,000 on our education and the generation coming through will be looking at anything up to £60,000. The fact is that unlike Grayling’s view that anyone can simply stand up and run a case, it takes years of training to ensure the job is undertaken properly. The Justice Minister has clearly overlooked why police constables stopped prosecuting in the magistrates’ court. The civil courts are already struggling with the ever increasing numbers of litigants in person. That in turn is costing more money for the HM Court’s Service and making access to justice much harder. Justice is being made to look cheap. What I mean by that is that it appears it has little place in our allegedly fair society and only available in extremes: those that can afford it and those that are the most vulnerable. However middle England also needs a voice. The independent bar provides a service to every level and as you state, places the onus on the advocate to ensure he only undertakes work within his competence. I have turned down work in the past for that very reason. To not have done so would be in breach of the Code of Conduct and open myself up to the risk of disciplinary proceedings. Therefore in turn, the independent bar should be fairly remunerated in a system that promotes justice rather than the cheapest token option.

  16. Thanks for this post Marc. My practice sounds much the same as yours and I’m sure we are representative of the criminal bar as a whole. It’s time the public learned what a valuable asset the government is flushing down the toilet.

  17. Excellent article. I was called to the bar in 2003 and on my feet in 2004. From starting undergraduate studies to completion of pupillage I invested well over £30K in myself. My first years income was approximately £30K gross and it climbed gradually until the high point in 2009 / 10. Since 2009 / 10 and introduction of AGFS my gross income has dropped by approximately 30%. My gross income for this year is under £70K – which effectively means a taxable income of about £55K. Therefore my fat cat income after tax will be approximately £42K (comparable to an inspector in the police force I believe). Again I get no holiday or sick pay and have only modest pension provision from my decade of service in the armed forces. I am sure my situation is broadly similar with that of my peers and that we would be considered pretty good value for money. I am not arguing against cuts since I believe that we should all bear fair share of the burden to put country back on its feet: although a 30% reduction in income is significantly more than any other profession (or trade) I am aware of. I despair at the clear attempts to destroy the publicly funded legal profession and perpetuate the myth of the fat cat lawyer!!

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