MoJ’s criminal bar pay proposals under fire over fears baby barristers will lose out

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By Polly Botsford on

Legal aid changes described as ‘a nasty whack for junior hacks’


It is well-known that crime doesn’t pay at the bar. But perhaps that will change with the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) newly proposed changes to barrister pay.

A consultation paper launched yesterday — which covers lawyers defending alleged criminals in publicly-funded Crown Court cases — contains a number of changes to what is considered a complex scheme. These include reducing the “counting pages” method for working out payments and instead “classifying offences based on the typical amount of work required in each case”, focusing on the seriousness and complexity of a case.

The proposals also suggest restoring separate payments for plea and trial preparation hearings, sentence and mentions, and payment for the second day of every trial.

Bar officials are hopeful these proposed changes to the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS) will benefit the criminal bar. Duncan McCombe, the incoming chairman of the Young Barristers’ Committee, said:

It goes without saying that no scheme is going to be absolutely perfect. There are a few modest drops in the base amounts for payments for some cases. But the clear advantage is that young barristers will be paid for their time in court, rather than being paid on an arbitrary basis, and will paid for each appearance rather than feeling like every other case is a loss leader. The scheme also provides the groundwork for newly qualified barristers to have a sustainable career in their early years, and beyond.

However, the reaction from the legal Twitterati has been one of dismay. 9-12 Bell Yard QC Mukul Chawla said he just couldn’t see who would benefit from the recommendations.

Anonymous legal blogger the Secret Barrister described the new scheme as “a nasty whack for junior hacks”.

Baby barristers missing out under the plans is a fear shared by the Law Society, which yesterday evening issued a press release stating:

Senior criminal barristers look set to enjoy a New Year pay hike at the expense of more junior bar colleagues and solicitor advocates.

Law Society president Robert Bourns argued:

Changes to the legal aid payment scheme for advocates in the Crown Court were long overdue, but giving a pay rise to the better paid seems to run contrary to the government’s own aims of reducing bottle necks in the court system… [A]lready well paid QCs look set for a pay increase of around 10%. The advocates towards the bottom of the pay scale — junior barristers and solicitors — will either stay the same or receive much smaller increases.