Should Barristers Make Cheese? We Are.

30th June, 2015, in Criminal Law, Legal Aid Cuts.


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Yesterday a large firm of solicitors declared they are planning to take a further slice from the barristers whose expertise they rely upon. 

Not in the open commercial market place you understand but a market place in which solicitors still have a monopoly: criminal legal aid. They want to cut 20% out of the fee they pay advocates for appearing in court. That’s 20% less for expert representation – the bit that matters. And do what with it? Keep it for themselves, for ‘diary purposes’.

So here you are: the answer to having a qualified, expert, barrister-led defence for your criminal case is to – wait for it – pay the barrister less! Woop! Woop!

But it’s not the only industry to suffer to taking a slice of somebody else’s pie. (And it’s not the only industry to respond!)

The plight of the milk-producing farmer is one we all understand. Just about everyone further up the supply chain put so much pressure on them that they started producing cheese (not literally – no wait – literally!). But you see the thing is, it transpired, none of us really minded a few more pennies going to the farmer, the expert, the producer of value (able) milk, and we liked the artisan nettle wrapped delicacies that also came about as a result.

It is so tempting to think that legal aid for criminal offences should ‘be axed’, or that it affects only the underbelly. It’s not true. A son who drank too much, allegedly punched someone and now his professional career is in threat. A husband who allegedly committed a driving offence and has been sacked- the household income, gone. Put another way, very few people know what it’s like to be operated on until they are squashed by an articulated lorry but we know there are surgeons there to look after us if it happens. But what if there weren’t?  Scaremongering? Really not.

In fact, this is the worst plight criminal legal aid barristers have ever faced. There are protests up and down the country and most solicitors are standing together with barristers rather than trying to take their pay too. To put this in perspective, work out what you were earning eight years ago…Got it? Now reduce it by 8.75% then do it again. It is not surprising The Criminal Bar Association describes this as an, “unparalleled challenge” to its members’ very survival. Epoch making words.

And then there is this, the thing nobody knows until it is you, your son, or your parent with nothing between you and the state: if you are charged with a criminal offence you are asked to contribute to the fee of defending yourself – before you, well, defend yourself. 

Think about what that means if you or someone you love were on the receiving end of an allegation (for that is all it takes) and charged. Quite apart from the fact that paying in advance is entirely trial by allegation, you must, having declared all of your assets to HMRC, make a financial contribution to defend yourself before your guilt has even been considered at trial, let alone established. Three grand a month for one client, fifteen hundred quid a month for ten or twelve months for another. Just two examples. The overall cost, the government says, of providing criminal legal aid. Or is it? Is the government just acting like the supermarkets – in the early stages. What should barristers do about it? What did the farmers do?

Simple. They relied upon their talents and training and now they all sell their own products directly from their own shops, famers markets and back to the supermarkets. Expertise straight to the market place and we all love it. (I actually prefer my cheese to be ‘nettle wrapped’.)

So what about us? What about barristers? We pay barristers more, but the charge to our clients is nearly always less than the recoverable rate if they opted for legal aid - and we do it with full administrative support. It’s not an advert. It’s not a threat. It is market economics favouring the experts and fairness for clients and we’ve done it already. Many times.

We’re making our own cheese…and it tastes very good indeed.

(If you would like to leave a cheese related comment – or otherwise -  here is a link to the original article.)