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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 October 2005, 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK
Bar chairman bids to end pay row
Scales of justice
The government wants to cut the 2bn legal aid bill
The costs of long criminal cases should be reduced and the money redistributed to other areas of the justice system, a barristers' leader has said.

Chairman of the Bar Guy Mansfield wants to end a pay row with ministers wanting a "more competitive" legal aid system.

The Bar says an eight-year pay freeze for trials lasting up to 10 days has cut barristers' earnings by 23%.

Earlier this week, a man accused of arson walked free after barristers refused to prosecute him in protest.

Mr Mansfield told the Bar's annual conference in central London on Saturday: "Radical measures are needed. The cost of long cases must be pared down and savings redistributed."

To achieve lasting change and savings, there must also be investment
Guy Mansfield

The move would free up cash for junior barristers who carry out the donkey work in the majority of criminal trials in England and Wales, he said.

Mr Mansfield warned that low pay could see barristers leaving criminal courts in a few years.

"Who is going to prosecute the Yorkshire Ripper or his equivalent in 20 years' time?

"People will vote with their feet."

Barristers do not earn set hourly rates and fees depend on whether they are undertaking preparation or advocacy work, a spokeswoman for the Department of Constitutional Affairs said.

A junior barrister working on a one-day trial will earn 650, while a three-day trial will pay 1,300, she said.

The Bar is made up of self-employed individuals and so they cannot legally strike or collectively refuse work.

However, the unprecedented protest amounts to industrial action.

'More competitive'

A package launched by the Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer in July led to further cash cuts, averaging 15%.

Announcing the measure at the time, Lord Falconer said 1% of criminal cases accounted for 50% of legal aid spending and he wanted to make the system "more competitive".

Since Labour came to power eight years ago, the legal aid bill has increased by more than a third to more than 2bn.

Lord Falconer has appointed Lord Carter of Coles to review the legal aid structure and investigate bidding between lawyers for legal aid cases.

He will also look at making one lawyer per case responsible for ensuring it meets an agreed budget.

Mr Mansfield said: "To achieve lasting change and savings, there must also be investment.

"To deal with crime we need good police work, we need proper resources for the court service, the CPS and defence lawyers.

"That means a long-term resolution of the present funding problems."

'Be patient'

Mr Mansfield urged barristers to set aside their complaints while they focus on making the most powerful case to Lord Carter.

"The point has been well made that the Bar feels undervalued," he said.

"It is not weak to wait, and work to make the best of the Carter review.

"The best prospect now for a long-term solution is for individuals to reserve their position and to await the outcome of that review."

Watch an interview with Guy Mansfield



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