The Government yesterday defended its decision to cut legal aid rates to barristers.
Last week The Birmingham Post revealed that 570 Midland barristers planned to refuse to take on new criminal work from October in protest against the cuts.
From October 5, all barristers will have their hourly rates cut by up to 11 per cent for defending in legal aid cases of between 11 and 40 days. QCs will have their hourly rates sliced for defending in legal aid cases which last up to ten days.
The Midland barristers' action, which could last at least two weeks, is likely to paralyse the region's judicial system as hundreds of child sex abuse, rape and robbery cases are stalled.
But Legal Aid Minister Bridget Prentice defended the cuts as a way of shortening criminal trials and keeping the Government's legal aid budget under control.
The legal aid budget is expected to overspend by an estimated £130 million this year and by a similar amount next year.
The Minister also said the reduced rates would mean more money would be put into the civil legal aid budget.
She told The Post: "My intention is to ensure that legal aid is given fairly to those who need it. Unless we get the amount of money going into the system under control and rebalance it by putting more money into civil legal aid, our budget will go through the roof.
"There has not been an increase in cases, yet we have seen the amount of money spent on criminal legal aid increase each year. The money is clearly going to the
"There is an incentive for barristers to make cases go on longer than necessary. We want to remove that incentive and have the cases dealt with speedily."
Last week Peter Joyce QC, who will become leader of the Midland circuit in October, and junior Birmingham barrister Tim Green claimed junior barristers could earn as little as £46.50 a day when the new rates come in.
However, Ms Prentice rejected this idea.
She said: "The £46.50-aday wage really only occurs if a barrister is spending only a small amount of his or her day in court. This might be for a bail application for example.
"Clearly no one is expecting barristers, after all their training, to be working for the minimum wage.
"It must be reminded that the £46.50 could be for ten minutes work and at that kind of rate is very far from the minimum wage.
"It is not my intention to pick on individual barristers. There are however some barristers who are earning £500,000 from legal aid in a year. There are equally those who earn a very small amount from legal aid, but they are often earning their salaries in a variety of different ways.
"The fees of the highest earners, the QCs, will be compressed so that they do not earn as much."
Ms Prentice urged Midland barristers not to boycott new criminal work in protest against the cuts, but instead to email or write to Lord Carter, who is reviewing the Government's plans for legal aid reform.
She said: "I really want Midland barristers to engage with Lord Carter rather than to deny victims and defendants the right to be defended by boycotting new work.
"A strike would be very unfortunate. I urge them to think very seriously about any action they take."
* Lord Carter can be contacted on email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by posting a letter to: Lord Carter's Review of Legal Aid Procurement, 2.02 Selborne House, 54 Victoria Street, London SW1E 6QW ..SUPL: