Paul Mendelle QC, Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said today in The Times that there are not too many barristers, there are too many laws and that Jack Straw’s plan to cut legal aid by 18% would lead to members of the Criminal bar earning less than a car mechanic. He went on to say that unless barristers are paid more we are going to end up with a second tier service and injustice – which will cost a lot more in the long term. His letter, as one would expect from an advocate, is tightly drawn and makes a number of ‘politically persuasive’ points. It is worth reading.
At first blush, this view is not going to elicit any sympathy whatsoever from members of the public. I could add that some members of the public would be more than happy to have cheaper, or even better – no trials, ‘bang villains up’ in a prison with no TV and no amenities and ‘throw away the key’ – but that would be facile.
Or is it? The fact of the matter is that criminal law is in the public sector domain, paid for by tax payers – and the legal sector will be subject to the same cuts as the rest of the tax payer funded economy in the coming years. While it is certainly true that a number of leading QCs have managed to relieve the tax payer of £0.5 – 1 million for criminal law work – they are a very small majority – a minority Jack Straw is quite happy to brief about for political election advantage. Frankly, The Tories are even quieter about their plans for Law than they are on the economy – but I can’t see a Tory government rushing to do anything other than provide more and cheaper prison places and cut the costs of banging the villains up in the first place. I have seen nothing from Conservative CCHQ or Mr Grieve to persuade me otherwise.
While there will be some ‘villains’ or those charged with serious criminal offences who are able to pay to hire the ‘best briefs’ – they are not, in the criminal sector, in the majority. Big business will always pay lawyers more for advice – but even they are now railing against some of the fees charged by the big City firms. Family lawyers specialising in the rarified atmosphere of relieving popular music stars and footballers of large fees for advising them on the ‘financial arrangements’ following divorce, enjoy lavish fees compared to family lawyers dealing at the lower end of the economic pyramid – it was ever thus. The market rules – but you don’t always get what you pay for, simply because of the professionalism of the lawyers involved in tax payer funded criminal law who provide a high quality service and advice for little money. It is right that Mr Mendelle raises these issues but, I suspect, until the country is out of the financial ‘merde’, barristers, as with others, will just have to wait in line for the good times to return… unless they wish to retrain as plumbers and car mechanics or become Unite sponsored British Airways cabin crew and go into far more lucrative sectors.
I did enjoy this passage from Mr Mendelle’s letter to the Times…
There aren’t too many barristers but there certainly are too many laws. Too many ill-considered and appallingly drafted laws are passed, as one bloated Bill after another is extruded from the sausage factory that Parliament has become. It is not barristers who drive up the cost of legal aid but the increases in the numbers of those prosecuted and jailed, a good few for crimes that never existed until this Government created them.”
He’s probably right – but, in these difficult days at least there are more crimes for people to commit. What would we do if villains and NuLabour criminals didn’t oblige by breaking the law? If you are a student thinking of a career in the criminal law field – you now know what the score is. Cabin doors to manual?