Some barristers are being paid the equivalent of £6.25 per hour by the government, less than the National Minimum Wage, despite their central role in clearing the 500,000-plus backlog of cases in the criminal courts, says the Bar Council in its Spending Review submission to the Treasury.
The submission shows that some publicly funded criminal barristers in the first two years of practice were, in 2019/20, typically earning less than £13,000 per year pre-tax after they had paid essential expenses and memberships. This works out at £6.25 per hour if they had worked 40-hour weeks. The National Minimum Wage rates for over 18-year olds starts at £6.45 per hour.
The Bar Council says that despite working full-time hours as self-employed barristers, many junior barristers have to get second jobs to make ends meet: it is no wonder that the sustainability of the legal profession is in jeopardy and, with it, the delivery of the justice system.
The Bar Council has urged the Treasury to adopt its five recommendations, including to invest properly by increasing the justice budget by £2.48bn – just an extra 22p per person per day - to provide a court system that is fit for the future, and to protect England and Wales’ position as a leading global legal centre. The Bar Council has also called for early legal advice to be included in the Government’s commitment to ‘levelling up’ deprived areas. That will save more than it costs by limiting public spending further down the line.
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.
“A small injection of cash here - to the criminal legal aid system - or there - to repair the court estate - will not solve the problem. When the government asks junior barristers to deliver an essential public service and to work extra hard to reduce the backlogs of cases, whilst paying them peanuts, something is not right. Without proper funding the justice system will fail. If it fails during this Parliament, the Government’s commitment to law and order will be an empty promise.”
In its report to the Treasury ahead of the Spending Review round, the Bar Council sets out a blueprint to rescue the struggling justice system, warning that, although the Ministry of Justice has acknowledged the many problems due to a decade of cuts and recently found additional funding, much more needs to be done to balance the scales that have been tipped against justice for years, and to protect British rights and freedoms and the most vulnerable.
Notes to editors
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- About the Bar Council
The Bar Council represents all barristers in England and Wales. It promotes:
- the Bar's high-quality specialist advocacy and advisory services
- fair access to justice for all
- the highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and
- the development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad.