Barristers' fees to be sharply cut

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The Independent Online

Criminal barristers' fees are to be brought into line with the salaries of doctors and teachers, in a move that will substantially reduce the amount some QCs earn through legal aid.

The clampdown on legal aid payments to barristers comes after government research into pay of teachers and doctors on a range of scales. David Lock, a minister at the Lord Chancellor's Department, said the move was in response to "substantial public disquiet" about defence barristers' fees. Theproposals will be unveiled by the Government after Easter.

Mr Lock said the comparative study ranged from top salaries for senior hospital doctors, who can earn £120,000 from the NHS, to GPs who earn on average £60,000 a year. The same principles would apply to comparisons with teachers' pay. He said legal aid fees for self-employed barristers must stand proper comparison "with other people working in the public sector doing skilled, stressful and professional work".

The Government's proposals will be "broadly based" on the existing graduate fee scheme, which fixes barristers' fees for short criminal trials, and will be brought in by October following consultation with the Bar Council and other parties.

The Bar Council intends to fight any substantial cut in its members' fees. In a letter to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, seen by The Independent, the chairman of the Bar, Jonathan Hirst QC, said he did not believe barristers were overpaid. "In some publicly funded areas, the Bar, and particularly the junior Bar, is underpaid," he said.

Bruce Houlder QC, chairman of the Bar Council's public affairs group, said: "We are as keen as anyone to control costs in publicly funded cases."