Straw 'names and shames' the richest legal aid lawyers

The country's richest crime lawyers have been named and shamed by the Justice Secretary in an attempt to prove barristers and solicitors are overpaid by the state.

Jack Straw has published a list of the top 10 highest paid barristers who earned £6,772,000 in legal aid payments last year. Nearly 1,000 criminal barristers earned more than £100,000.

The figures were published as Mr Straw announced plans to change the way legal aid is paid to law firms in England and Wales. Mr Straw said he had a duty to ensure the legal aid budget was used "effectively and efficiently".

He said: "In the early 1970s there were just over 2,500 practising barristers and about 32,000 solicitors, compared with 15,000 and 115,000 respectively today. This is equal to one lawyer for every 400 people. We are in grave danger of becoming over-lawyered and underrepresented."

One barrister named in the list received nearly £1m last year. Howard Godfrey QC, who is deputy head of chambers at 2 Bedford Row, was third in the list for the previous year, 2007-08, when his earnings were £988,000.

Solicitors' firms were also named by the Government which showed that the highest-earning practice received nearly £9m last year. The Law Society's president, Robert Heslett, said it was "possibly misleading" to compare the legal aid budget today with the budget in 1982. "It was after this date," he said, "that the extensive concerns about the behaviour of the police led to the introduction of safeguards through the Police and Criminal Evidence Act".