Barristers (Strike Action)

Oral Answers to Questions — Constitutional Affairs – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 18th October 2005.

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Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean 2:30 pm, 18th October 2005

What steps she plans to take in response to strike action in respect of publicly funded work by barristers in criminal practice.

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs

It is irresponsible for barristers to take action that disrupts the courts and harms the interests of victims, witnesses and defendants. Action has been limited and managed locally by the courts, the Legal Services Commission and the Crown Prosecution Service using a range of effective contingency plans.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean

Given the ample warnings from the Bar Council, does the Under-Secretary believe that it would have been advisable to wait until Lord Carter produced his report before introducing cuts to legal aid pay?

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs

The Lord Chancellor has been in conversation with the Bar Council, including two full months of consultation with the Bar, on the savings package. He also invited the Bar Council to offer alternative suggestions, without receiving any effective response. We could not wait any longer and I asked the Bar to continue to work with Lord Carter.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

On the back of my hon. Friend's comments, may I draw hon. Members' attention to early-day motion 745, which I tabled? Does my hon. Friend agree that it is deplorable when the Government are held to ransom—in effect, blackmailed—by the Bar? Is not it time that certain— not all—members of the Bar understood that a review process, which will consider the position in the round, is in progress, and that they should therefore reflect on the action that is currently being threatened? Should not especially members of the Bar Council Association decide to join in the review, which will report next year?

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs

My hon. Friend presents a measured and reasonable argument, to which I hope that the Bar will pay heed. Barristers are well paid. Junior barristers are paid, on average, £650 for a one-day trial and £1,300 for a three-day trial. Most people would find that a reasonable remuneration. I agree with him wholeheartedly that the Bar should work with Lord Carter, who will reach his conclusions by the end of January, so that we have a fair, sustainable and stable legal aid procurement system for the future.

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In fact a one day trial is paid as follows:- Group A (murder)= £740 Group B, C, H or I = £250 Group D = £390 Group F or E = £210 (See Archbold page 943) This is an all in fee (before overheads) and includes all paperwork and preparation. As junior barristers opertate on about 50% overheads, a one day...

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Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I declare an interest in that I am a practising barrister. Does the Under-Secretary understand that, although many of us do not support the strike, many members of the junior Bar are paid no more than £46 a day for going into court? Will she take account of their expenses? The fee is derisory and the matter should be addressed with all possible speed.

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs

The £46 fee is often mooted in favour of the junior Bar and is sometimes done so in a way that implies misunderstanding. The £46 could be for a bail application, which might take 10 minutes. A junior barrister could do 10 or 20 bail applications in a day at £46 each. I leave it to the mathematicians to work out exactly how much that is. Having said that, I stress to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we are aware that aspects of the junior Bar's remuneration need to be examined. Today's action does not affect the very junior Bar; it is about trials that last 11 days and more, which few junior barristers experience.