Submission by Nigel Pascoe QC, former Leader of the Western Circuit.
1. I have been in full time practice at the bar for 47 years and a silk for 25 years.
2. The proposed cuts in legal aid rates have to be seen in the context of an austere financial commitment to reduce the deficit. Sacrifices must be made by every section of the community. That is the realistic starting point.
3. The percentage cut in fees across the board is unprecedented in all forms of publicly paid work.
4. By way of illustration, my own approximate estimate is that the average level of income for Queen’s Counsel in future doing legal aid crime is unlikely to exceed half the average earned by an NHS consultant doing only National Health work.
5. Similarly junior counsel will be lucky to earn half the amount of general practitioners also doing only NHS work. Each figure takes account of average chambers expenses.
6. There is room for some debate on that generalisation in both directions, but it can stand as a useful comparator for these purposes.
7. Neither consequence is fair.
8. It follows that there will be an immediate diminution in the number of criminal practitioners. Insofar as that will be said then to reflect an oversupply of criminal barristers, it will also be represented as a market reaction which is not the business of government. That ignores the loss of considerable expertise throughout the profession.
9. The further problem is the message it sends to young would be criminal barristers. Put simply, they will not do crime in any significant numbers.
10. This in the medium term will be strongly against the public interest. Unless there is a reasonable supply of young barristers learning their craft, standards must drop and cases conducted at a lower level of competancy.
11. Ultimately an inadequate work force means a loss of quality, in the predictable future. The worst consequence will be that the guilty escape and some innocent people will be convicted. Further poor advocacy inevitably will produce more appeals.
12. The revised scheme does not address necessary work done out of court. Specifically I refer to necessary advices and evening preparatory work. Further it does not address travel costs which may even mean that an advocate may lose money by accepting a brief. That is indefensible.
12a In my view, there has been insufficient consideration given to alternative proposals made by the Bar Council to save money.
Both sides should submit to independent arbitration by a panel which includes a very senior retired Judge.
Nigel Pascoe QC