Legal aid pay row: Doughty Street QC rounds on claims lawyers’ earnings have ‘rocketed’

Avatar photo

By Katie King on

Publicly funded barristers still broke, says publicly funded barrister


A criminal law silk has rubbished claims that legal aid lawyers’ earnings have “rocketed” over the past five years.

According to new stats, produced by legal resource website Chambers Student, junior barristers have enjoyed hefty pay rises in areas of law thought to be struggling under the weight of government cuts.

The Times’ newsletter The Brief reported on Friday that — at the top end at least — average pay for new criminal law barristers has “shot up” by a third from £30,000 to £40,000. As for family lawyers again at the top end of the average pay scale, one-year call barristers rake in a quarter more than their counterparts from five years ago. In money terms, this is an increase of £10,000 from £40,000 to £50,000.

This is rubbish, says Doughty Street Chambers’ Francis FitzGibbon QC. Writing in The Brief today, the criminal law specialist warned readers to take the recent figures with “a big pinch of salt”, noting:

The story was based on anecdotal research by a student guidebook that is at odds with the official statistics.

Painting a much more sobering picture for aspiring advocates, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association FitzGibbon argued this morning that criminal and family law public funding — or rather what remains of it — has been declined for years.

It’s “the most junior barristers” who will feel the biggest effects of this. On this, he said:

They inevitably do the lowest-paid work and they often have to travel to remote crown courts for standard hearings, and can make a loss after paying their expenses on the £87 fixed legal aid fee.

Though he admits “no one goes into criminal law to get rich”, the worsening earnings and hours are discouraging people from joining the profession and are even causing a criminal bar exodus.

The situation is a “tragedy”, the news coming in the same week the Legal Action Group — together with homelessness charity Shelter — warned thousands of people are losing their homes each year because they can’t access lawyers. According to weekend reports, legal aid cuts and bureaucracy have “progressively driven most lawyers specialising in housing out of the market, leaving few practitioners.”