Peter Goldsmith QC said that greedy lawyers were an easy target for the press. "The reality is very different. Let's get some reality back into the debate before we destroy our justice system once and for all," he said in a speech at Durham University.
He said a barrister, funded by legal aid, would earn about £30 an hour for a typical criminal trial. The rate has been frozen for three years. "Out of that has to come tax, national insurance and all other overheads - all the costs, in fact, faced by anyother self-employed person."
Other lawyers point out that barristers are very well paid in comparison to the general population. They also have lower overheads than solicitors, who frequently run large offices.
Despite the gripes aimed at "greedy lawyers", Mr Goldsmith claimed that over 70 per cent of the public said their experiences of the law and lawyers "was good or very good".
He also defended the costs of legal aid for complex fraud trials and in particular the Maxwell brothers' case. "Does the state want those it brings charges against to have legally aided representation in the court?
"Does it want these types of charges heard in court at all? At present the Government rightly answers `yes' and `yes'." Meanwhile, a six-year study into the training of barristers, published today, calls for an overhaul of the pupilage system under whichyoung lawyers are apprenticed to sets of chambers.
The report, Starting Practice: Work and Training at the Junior Bar, carried out by Sheffield University, says the present system is "a lottery" and calls for a clearing-house system to help newly qualified barristers find permanent tenancies.
It also found that 40 per cent of female barristers complained of sexual harassment - 5 per cent saying it was a major problem. About a quarter of new barristers thought racial discrimination was a major problem.Reuse content