Law lord slams barristers' fees

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LORD WOOLF, the law lord masterminding sweeping reform proposals for civil justice, told barristers yesterday that they were earning too much money from the system.

Speaking at the Bar Council's annual conference in London, he also told his audience that the "refreshers" they charge for every day a case goes on in court must have a limited future.

The audience of barristers was asked which of them would take a case to court if they were paying the costs themselves. Only one member put his hand up.

Lord Woolf said: "In some areas of work the Bar has been able to pitch its fees in recent years at levels which could be open to criticism. I know of young men of a few years' experience who are earning more than a law lord." Lord Woolf earns pounds 109,435 a year.

"You can say, 'Good luck to them, if the solicitors will agree fees that will enable this to be done,' but I do believe this could kill the golden goose."

A recent survey in the magazine Legal Business estimated that many top QCs were earning more than pounds 1m a year. These included the libel expert George Carman, Christopher Clarke, Tony Grabiner and Gordon Pollock. None of the figures have been confirmed by the QCs concerned.

Lord Woolf said: "The high fees sometimes reflect a shortage of members of the Bar with the required expertise, but this is a problem which the profession through the Bar Council should tackle."

He said in future much more emphasis would be placed on costs. He has already been working for a year on his reform proposals and presented an interim report to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, in the summer which proposed that there would be far greater management of cases by judges so that they would move more quickly.