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Cherie Blair backs radical plan for legal profession to buy junior barristers’ debt

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Greece-style debt relief — for rookie criminal barristers

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Top QC Cherie Blair has come out in favour of a radical idea to buy the debts of cash-strapped junior legal aid barristers, as Criminal Bar Association (CBA) chief Mark Fenhalls QC reveals more details of the scheme exclusively to Legal Cheek.

Writing on LinkedIn, employment law specialist Blair — who comes from a working class background — describes the CBA’s plan, of which public mention was first made last week, as “imaginative”. She adds that “the costs of legal training are a real problem in encouraging a diverse legal profession”.

Here is a screenshot of her post in full:

cherie

The link Blair posted is to a paywalled interview in last week’s The Times with CBA chief Mark Fenhalls QC about referral fees at the criminal bar. Hidden away at the bottom is a couple of paragraphs about students turning their back on the criminal bar.

It is here that appears the first public mention of Fenhall’s idea for a scheme “in which the Bar/Inns of Court would ‘buy’ students’ debts” that would give the government “its money up front and write off the rest, knowing it would take years to recover anyway.” The article continues: “Over time, the barrister would pay the Bar the rest”, before quoting Fenhalls:

If we can wipe out these debts at the start of their careers, it might just give us a chance to stop the drain, particularly of young woman, who are hard to retain through motherhood. It is horrifying that as we near the centenary of the first woman barrister we are struggling with this.

Legal Cheek caught up with Fenhalls over the weekend and he told us some more about the idea — which has been the subject of Inns of Court gossip throughout the summer. He explained:

The bar needs to try and find a way of persuading Government to sell us the debts of those who seek a career at the publicly funded bar, at a suitable price. The Treasury will receive money ‘up front’ and help restore the public finances now, instead of waiting decades for money that will probably never arrive.

The CBA boss, who is a white collar crime specialist working from 23 Essex Street, added that the driver of the scheme is to boost access to a branch of the profession that is becoming the bastion of the privileged thanks to low pay and minimal job security.

With the lower level legal aid work which is having its funding removed traditionally being a way for rookie barristers to cut their teeth, it seems increasingly likely that today’s Cherie Blairs will opt to become solicitors and leave the bar for the rich kids — unless something dramatic happens.