Dozens of barristers in Birmingham led the first walkouts from Crown Court in 400 years over cuts to legal aid which could spell ‘the beginning of the end for the Criminal Bar.’
Up to 90 barristers, some in full legal attire, protested outside the entrance to Birmingham Crown Court amid a growing war of words over the future of the criminal justice system.
Trials were delayed and cases put back as QCs withdrew their labour over Government plans to cut £220 million from the annual legal aid budget. The leader of the Midland circuit, Mark Wall QC, said many barristers on less than £30,000 a year would quit if the cuts went through – and said an average salary of £56,000 cited for criminal lawyers was misleading.
“Out of that £56,000 you have to take the costs of running an office, employing staff and other overheads. The income figure is likely to be between £25,000 and £30,000.
“These are people who are putting in 60-hour weeks and they are sufficiently well-trained and intelligent enough to go elsewhere.
“We think it is the beginning of the end for the Criminal Bar. I think we will see the best leave the Bar and once they go, there is much more of a struggle for the ones left to make a living.
“Because you are in effect a business everybody has to keep looking at their accounts year on year to see if it is worthwhile carrying on investing and more and more people are saying it is not worthwhile.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said in a statement: “At around £2 billion a year we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world, and it would remain very generous even after reform.
“Latest figures show more than 1,200 barristers judged to be working full time on taxpayer-funded criminal work received £100,000 each in fee income last year, with six barristers receiving more than £500,000 each and £84,000 paid in fee income on average.
“We agree legal aid is a vital part of our justice system, that’s why we have to find efficiencies to ensure it remains sustainable and available to those most in need of a lawyer.”