Women junior barristers will soon be grateful that legal protocol still requires them to wear a spot of old horse hair on their bonces when appearing in the High Court — because they certainly won’t be able to afford a session at Toni & Guy’s after the government’s legal aid rate cuts take effect.
Comparison figures from the South Eastern Circuit show just how painful the Ministry of Justice cuts are going to be for the junior bar — even those working on supposedly ‘very high cost cases’.
According to the figures, under the cuts, a led junior barrister in a very high cost trial — involving white-collar dodgy behaviour, for example — will be paid £42.70 an hour for preparation time. Meanwhile, a basic cut and blow dry at T&G — albeit with a senior stylist wielding the scissors and hairdryer — will set that barrister back 57 knicker.
Other comparisons with ‘real life’ jobs also don’t provide much comfort for young barristers under the MoJ’s penny-pinching regime. The figures show that while a junior alone on a complicated fraud case would bag £49 an hour for prep, pest control specialists in Oldham would submit a fee note of £76.20 for an hour’s worth of de-ratting a local business.
Average garage mechanics are coming in at about £80 per hour, so if a junior barrister can actually afford to run a motor, hard luck if it breaks down.
But really putting barristers in the shade are those doyens of super billing — plumbers. The South Eastern Circuit figures show that London’s renowned Pimlico Plumbers charges £90-£200 for every hour spent under the sink.
That will make even QCs wince in light of the government’s proposals. Silks are understood to bag £63.70 for an hour’s prep under the new rates, so they’ll have to touch up a few juniors for a contribution if the chamber’s lavatory is blocked.
The South East Circuit points out that barristers must pay overheads from the new hourly rates, covering office space, travel and clerking (and let’s face it, the latter don’t come cheap). The circuit also helpfully draws attention to average hourly rates for litigation partners at City law firms, which on a special offer day stand at slightly above the £400 mark.
The comparative figures will stoke the on-going row over whether the Criminal Bar Association and the Bar Council should have cut their recent deal with the government and called off criminal barrister strike days and other opposition to the cuts. Whispers around the criminal bar suggest the deal was not welcomed at many chambers and that at least unofficial strikes could return.
In the meantime, the government’s ploy of palming off all legally-aided defendants in VHCC trials to the nascent and relatively unheard of Public Defender Service is rumoured not to be going as smoothly as Justice Secretary Chris Grayling would have hoped.
Suggestions swirl around criminal law sets that the PDS is beset with personnel issues involving long-term sick leave and a general lack of morale. A terrific use of public funds, is the cry heard across the criminal bar.