Lawyers reject plan to cut pay to level of judges

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The Independent Online

High-earning barristers have rejected government proposals to have their pay restricted to judges' salary levels.

High-earning barristers have rejected government proposals to have their pay restricted to judges' salary levels.

The Bar Council, in a paper published yesterday, said any comparison between a judge's pay and that of a barrister was a "red herring".

Earlier this year the Legal Aid Board proposed pegging barristers' fees in high-cost criminal cases to those earned by the judiciary. The board said that expensive and complex criminal cases accounted for 1 per cent of all criminal cases but 40 per cent of the £349m crown court legal aid budget.

The proposed clamp-down includes restricting barristers to hourly rates so that they are paid no more than the judges before whom they appear.

But yesterday the Bar argued that a comparison between the two pay structures was a "false analogy". Roy Amlot QC, who drew up the Bar's response, said that whereas judges were paid a salary, barristers were self-employed. He said that flexibility was the key to ensuring that barristers were neither overpaid nor underpaid.

The Bar's report claimed that there were too many variations in the tax status of judges and barristers. It said that allowances had to be made for the time spent by barristers on education, administration and accounting. Provision would have to be made to cover the value of non-salary benefits claimed by judges, such as sick pay and holiday pay.

Mr Amlot said: "Comparisons with judges' earnings are red herrings and should be treated as such." Instead, he reasoned, flexible hourly rates were needed to reflect the variety in the size and complexity of high-cost cases.

Earlier this month the Law Society called for QCs to be paid no more than NHS consultants.

Later this week the Bar is to consider proposals to reform its system of pupillage, the traditional barrister's apprenticeship before qualification. The proposals, part of a consultation initiative on the future of the Bar, will also look into changes to the "cab rank" rule, which states that barristers should take the first case that comes along but which is not always followed in practice.