Mr Grayling’s attack on the Criminal Bar

The Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling has announced he is to take yet another “axe to the criminal legal aid budget”. Despite the fact that legal aid fees paid to criminal barristers have already been cut by 13.5% since 2010, and are planned to be cut further, his new idea is that no barrister should receive more from public money than the Prime Minister’s salary of £142,000.

But Mr Grayling’s assertion that the Prime Minister’s overall remuneration should be the measure of a top criminal barrister’s earnings only works in his favour if we ignore Mr Cameron’s actual earnings.

To earn the equivalent of the Prime Minister’s salary of £142,000 before tax a barrister would have to have a turnover of at least £200,000 in legal aid fees, a sum all but unheard of on an a regular basis, and completely unattainable to 99% of the criminal bar.

And Mr Grayling’s principle breaks down completely when one remembers that the PM’s salary is just a small part of his remuneration

Of course no-one begrudges Mr Cameron No.10, with its one hundred rooms including a choice of pillared, terracotta or white drawing rooms, each furnished with either Chippendale or Robert Adam furniture and decorated with a selection of Turners and Constables; nor would we want him to forego his ½ an acre of garden (with gardener included), and it is of course a good thing that the maintenance costs (just over £680,000 since the last election) are paid by the public, but it does amount to quite a generous package. A quick check with reveals nothing remotely comparable in the immediate vicinity, although Foxtons do have a more modest six bedroom apartment, albeit without a garden, available not too far away in Knightsbridge for an annual rent of £2,592,000.

Then there is Mr Cameron’s 11 bedroom holiday home, Chequers, which would cost at the very least £10,000 a week to rent, let’s say £50,000 a year (without the staffing costs).

Nor should we forget Mr Cameron’s pension, an index linked annual sum of £71,250. To pay this would require a pension fund of at least £2,750,000, and given that Mr Cameron is only likely to be Prime Minister for at most about five to seven years this equates to an annual contribution of something like £250,000 per annum.

Mr Cameron also receives his £65,700 MP’s salary on top of everything else, and will receive in due course the very generous MP’s pension when he leaves office. I am too polite to discuss Mr Cameron’s parliamentary expenses (although not so polite that I won’t mention that Mr Grayling, who now poses as a stern guardian of the public purse, used his to pay the mortgage for eight years on a Pimlico flat, despite having a constituency home just 17 miles away from Westminster).

So adding together his salary, perks and pension it seems as though the Prime Minister receives the equivalent of well over £3,000,000 from the public each year.

Nobody at the criminal bar could possibly come within spitting distance of this sort of money in legal aid fees, so Mr Grayling’s pronouncement that their fees should be capped at the level of the Prime Minister’s income is absurd, and unless Mr Grayling is a very stupid man indeed he must know that it is absurd.

The vast majority of criminal barristers have taxable incomes far, far below the sort of six figure sums that Mr Grayling’s department likes to pretend, with even the most experienced and hard- working rarely earning much more than about £60 – 70,000 after expenses, whilst many others are lucky to earn even half of this. Their incomes have been dropping for years. They do not have grace and favour residences to live in, or publicly funded pension pots, index-linked or otherwise, to cushion their retirements. The idea that they are growing fat on public money may play well with the public, but it is utter nonsense.

Far from having incomes equivalent to the Prime Minister, most criminal barristers already earn considerably less than the Police Officers they cross-examine, and their incomes continue to fall. Despite this the Ministry of Justice regularly issues press releases about wholly exceptional individual barristers’ earnings as though this in some way justified the continual reduction in the fees for all.

Instead of tennis at Chequers or croquet at Dorneywood followed by an ermine-cushioned dotage, criminal barristers – and solicitors too – now face bankruptcy and ruin as a combination of legal aid cuts, absurd regulatory changes and plans to tender criminal work to the lowest bidder, destroy a central pillar of our criminal justice system.

Any previous Lord Chancellor would have been appalled by this. Mr Grayling, seemingly unaware of the dignity of his office, appears to revel in it.


Author: Matthew

I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly

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