Four money-bags barristers in crosshairs if Miliband’s MP earnings cap wins day

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By Judge John Hack on

Tory Geoffrey Cox QC heads the list with his reported annual haul of more than £800k from the bar, but former Solicitor General would also be in trouble


Top barristers would be some of the hardest hit MPs if Labour leader Ed Miliband becomes prime minister and gets his way by slapping a £10,000 cap on additional earnings for lower house parliamentarians.

Last night, the government defeated a Labour motion for a ban on MPs holding paid directorships or consultancies. But commentators anticipate that Labour’s ultimate plan would be to impose a cap on MPs’ outside earnings.

If that is the case, it is understood that four big names would immediately be in the line of fire if outside earnings were limited to 10% to 15% of MP salaries.

Miliband’s call comes in the wake of the latest cash-for-access scandal, in which the Daily Telegraphy newspaper stung former foreign secretaries Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw for allegedly attempting to line up lucrative consultancies while still sitting in the house.

Both politicians are lawyers — Rifkind qualified as a Scottish advocate in 1970 and practised for about four years; Straw was called to the bar in England and practised as a criminal hack between 1972-74. Both were made political silks.

Their four barrister MP colleagues, who will currently not be best disposed towards either Rifkind or Straw for drawing attention to outside earnings, are all Tories.

Geoffrey Cox QC — a white-collar crime and courts martial specialist, who founded Thomas More Chambers in Lincoln’s Inn Fields — clearly leads the pack. He is reported to have hauled in more than £820,000 from the bar last year.

Former Solicitor General and current media law specialist Sir Edward Garnier QC — from One Brick Court in the Temple — is thought to trouser more than £275,000 a year.

Stephen Phillips QC — an insurance and reinsurance expert at the Temple’s 7KBW — is reported to pull down nearly £260,000.

While Sir Tony Baldry — a commercial disputes hack and head of chambers at One Essex Court in The Temple — takes home a more modest £190k from the bar, but he is also understood to hold several executive positions.

All four feature in the list of top-10 outside earners in the House of Commons. Surprisingly, Cox’s bucket-load only places him second in the overall list, behind former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown, who manages to take just a few thousand shy of a smooth million every year back to his Fife home.

Garnier clocks in at fifth place on the money bags league table, Phillips follows right behind in sixth, while Baldry comes in at eighth position, right behind the Dr Spock of the Commons, John Redwood.

The four most loaded barrister MPs are clearly doing well for themselves, but just how well relative to their peers is difficult to say. Arriving at an average earnings figure at the bar is a slippery business, with the Bar Council demurring on the subject in its statistical report on the profession.

As Chambers Student directory points out:

“Since the bar is a gentlemanly, old-school sort of place at times — your typical barrister would probably consider it a little vulgar to reveal how much wedge he’s packing …This is probably the reason the Bar Council seems extraordinarily reluctant to publish anything about barristers’ earnings, deeming it too sensitive a topic to comment on.”

Nonetheless, Chambers Student does its bit to fill the gap — at least as far as the early years of call are concerned. Commercial barristers in their second year of call are likely to earn between £70,000 and £200,000 annually.

But at the other end of the spectrum, public law and family specialists of the same vintage will be on between £40,000 and £90,000.

Which chambers pay their pupils most wedge? Check out the Legal Cheek Chambers Most List.