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Grayling’s attack on the Criminal Bar

Matthew Scott, of Pump Court Chambers
  • Matthew Scott, of Pump Court Chambers
    Matthew Scott, of Pump Court Chambers
Matthew Scott
Published at 12:01AM, April 11 2013

Matthew Scott responds to Grayling’s idea that barristers’ legal aid fees should not exceed the prime minister’s income

The Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, has announced that 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 per cent 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 a regular basis, and completely unattainable to 99 per cent of the Criminal Bar.

And Mr Grayling’s principle breaks down completely when one remembers that the Prime Minister’s salary is just a small part of his remuneration. Of course no-one begrudges Mr Cameron No.10, with its 100 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 half 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 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 four 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 million 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 £60,000 to £70,000 after expenses, while 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 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.

Matthew Scott, of Pump Court Chambers, specialises in serious crime, including murder, serious sexual and violent offences, offences against children as well as cases involving drugs and fraud

Lee Callaghan

Grayling’s approach is attack by press release and work out the details later. Its knee jerk ill considered policy that verges on bad management because it suggests to those who work hard in public service ( which is what working for the legal aid fund amounts to) are not worthy to be treated with respect or with fairness. Grayling said this ridiculous claim to make headlines and yet had not thought through his case with any vigour. This impacts everyone in the country because everyone is entitled to a fair and properly remunerated defence if accused of crimes. Ad hoc ill considered policy were supposed to be the politics of another age. It seems not.

John Barleycorn

Excellent idea from Mr Grayling. The legal aid bandwaggon was in need of some trimming. Maybe this will stop the liberal-left agitation disguised as “law” that seems to be the latest thing for the legal profession.

david reddaway

Quite right – the idea that legal aid should be cut yet further is quite appalling. Who will want to spend years studying law only to end up being paid a pittance – will there be any criminal barristers left in 10 years time? Mr Grayling is clearly pandering to the Average Joe who swallows the hype about overpaid fat cat lawyers, and applies it not only to corporate lawyers (where the hype is often justified) but also to criminal barristers, where it is decidedly not. I suggest his salary is trimmed accordingly.

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