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Junior criminal barristers earning less than minimum wage, Bar Council warns

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Forced to take second and even third jobs to ‘make ends meet’

Some criminal barristers are earning less than the National Minimum Wage (NMW), according to the Bar Council, despite their pivotal role in helping clear the enormous backlog of cases in the criminal courts.

In a spending review submitted to the Treasury, the Bar Council says some publicly funded juniors in the first two years of practice were, in 2019/20, earning less than £13,000 a year pre-tax and after overheads. This, it says, equates to £6.25 an hour based on a 40-hour week — 20p short of the £6.45 MMW starting rate for over 18s.

The body, which represents approximately 17,000 barristers in England and Wales, claims the poor pay means many juniors are forced to seek out second and even third jobs to “make ends meet”.

The Bar Council goes on to make a number of recommendations, including upping the justice budget by £2.48 billion (equivalent to an extra 22p per person per day) to upgrade the court system; provide access to early legal advice to support the most vulnerable and help them to succeed in life; and protect England and Wales’ position as a leading global legal centre.

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Chair of the bar, Amanda Pinto QC, said:

“The spending review is the government’s chance to protect the rights of the British public and restore confidence in law and order in this country. For too long, there has been a dismal failure to invest in the Ministry of Justice budget, and many barristers were left unsupported by the government, struggling to get by, as courts closed during the pandemic and their work dried up. The justice sector is now in a dire state: outrageously long delays to people’s cases and shockingly low fees for legal professionals are undermining the government’s commitment to law and order.”

Last year it emerged that the government was looking to recruit a barista on a salary package in excess of that earned by the average junior legal aid barrister. The role, ‘Head Barista’ for the House of Commons, came with a salary of £23,290 and benefits including a civil service pension, 30 days annual leave and a childcare voucher scheme.

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