Barristers who prosecute and defend in crown court trials in England and Wales say they could take action over pay.
Barristers say they are not paid enough for legal aid cases
Some 97% of more than 1,000 barristers asked by the Criminal Bar Association said they thought action such as refusing cases should be explored.
Hourly rates for the 95% of crown court trials which last up to 10 days have not changed since 1997.
The government admitted pay was in need of reform, but said overall, defence barristers' pay had gone up.
One lawyer was expected to earn £1m from public funds this year, the Department of Constitutional Affairs said.
Taking direct action such as refusing cases would be the closest barristers could take to going on strike.
In the poll of 1,024 of the CBA's 2,500 members, 75% described the mood in chambers over the issue as "angry" or "very angry".
Some 97% said they thought direct action should be explored, and 79% said they would take it.
One experienced barrister, specialising in sex abuse cases, told the survey he earned less than junior colleagues doing straightforward hearings.
The government's fixed pay rates known as "graduated fees" were introduced in 1997 and apply to crown court trials lasting up to 10 days.
Hourly pay rates for these cases do not include preparation time and expenses.
Current hourly rates for defending in legal aid cases are £33.50 for a junior, £47 for a leading junior and £62.50 for a QC.
Ninety-eight percent of the barristers questioned called for the rates to be kept in line with the rate of inflation at the very least.
Some complained the rates of pay made it difficult to afford flexible childcare.
David Spens QC, chairman of the CBA, said: "The criminal Bar is saying enough is enough.
"For a profession which prosecutes and defends cases in the public interest the situation is now intolerable."
Barristers doing publicly funded work performed important functions for society, he pointed out.
"Those who prosecute, do so on behalf of the Crown and of the public.
"They speak for the victims of crime, and ensure, where the facts and the law permit, that redress can be achieved and justice can be done.
"Those who defend uphold the inalienable right to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, provide a vital bulwark against the powerful resources of the State and put the onus on the prosecution to prove its case beyond all reasonable doubt."
You sent us your comments:
When people realise the astronomical costs involved in qualifying as a barrister, and take note of how difficult it then is to secure a job and the uncertain first few years in practice, then they can comment on barristers' pay. Many barristers spend many years servicing huge debts, I know as I'm running them up now. If people want (as they profess to do) a profession drawn from a wider social base, then the incentives for people must be there to take on the risks and financial burdens necessary, and yes, that does mean higher rates of pay.
Nick, Manchester, United Kingdom
These people are not exactly on minimum wage, are they? Perhaps if we ditched the adversarial legal system in favour of the European inquisitorial approach we would only need half as many of them. The surviving ones could then have a big pay rise and still save the public money.
Jim, London, UK
I am a defence barrister of 10 years call. My practice consists of cases of serious crime, particularly sexual offences and serious drugs cases. Last year my taxable income was less than £30K. I note comments about the hourly rate we are paid. What has not been pointed out is that hourly rate is only paid for conferences and special preparation. Other than that there is no rate for preparation, but fixed rates are paid per day of a trial. I am sure the suggestion of a salary would be welcomed by most members of the Bar, and would undoubtedly raise the salaries of most criminal barristers.
Clare G, London, England
Thirty-three pounds an hour isn't a bad rate of pay for anyone, especially when that's paid out of the public purse, and it's supplemented by the higher rates paid for non-Legal Aid cases. Barristers operate in a 'closed shop', with no real market competition and an endless supply of work (sadly), guaranteeing job security and a decent wage for the duration of their career. Hearing these privileged people complain about their pay rates is nauseating. If barristers do refuse cases in protest, it will simply prove what many already suspect - that ego and self-interest motivate the legal profession rather than any moral impulse or respect for justice.
As a recently qualified solicitor I must say that I empathise with barristers. It is a common misconception that people have that lawyers earn millions, when the reality comes down to often earning less than unskilled employees. People seem to disregard that the new generation of lawyers like myself have not had the benefit of government grants throughout university, which means even with a part time job, student loans of about £12,000, and then there is the cost of the post graduate training which is in the region of £5-7k just for the course fees.
Sunny, Leicester, UK
Lawyers' hourly rates represent their turnover as self-employed businesses, not their personal incomes. For a high proportion of legal aid lawyers, the income of a junior doctor or even a teacher would represent a significant increase. Indeed, even senior nurses can earn more. And to L Poulter, you should be aware that since 2000, the number of solicitors' firms doing legal aid has dropped from over 11,000 to 3,900. CABx are reporting that they cannot get specialist legal services for their clients who need them. The evidence of a severe shortage of suitably qualified people is overwhelming.
Richard Miller, Whitstable, Kent, England
The rate that Barristers receive is not actually what they take home per hour. They are like any other business and out of the £33.50 they have to pay for the overheads of the business, rent rates, paying their employees and so on. In addition they do not get paid preparation time, which for a case lasting up to 10 days can be a considerable amount of time.
John Galbraith, Swindon, UK
Let the general public view on television the proceedings in the courts in the UK. Then let us decide whether barristers deserve better pay. The antiquated and archaic way our courts operate are in need of urgent reform before we address the issue of pay.
Jonathan Erasmus-Davies, Saudi Arabia
I cannot argue with the logic that a well trained and competent professional such as a barrister is entitled to a decent salary. However, I find the prospect of millions of pounds of public money being given to private firms charging grossly inflated fees to be outrageous. Time for a professional, public and accountable Crown Prosecution Service to take over the responsibility for Crown court trials and end this gravy train.
Of course barristers provide a very important function in society, probably one that's not appreciated by many people. Then again, with the hourly rates they're on already, I don't imagine the average junior doctor or school teacher will be too impressed at their complaint here.
Chris, Cambridge, UK
Thirty-three pounds and fifty pence an hour? And they complain about that? As someone who earns a fraction of that, even if I cram in hours of overtime, I'm afraid I have very little sympathy for these people. Perhaps we should pay them salaries, the same as any other contracted worker.
Shaun Rodger, Paisley, Scotland
When I see a QC driving a Ford Fiesta and wearing a Burton suit I'll start listening.
As a former barrister I can categorically state that the public's view of barristers' earnings is totally skewed. Some may earn astronomical amount but many, particularly at the junior end, struggle for years to make a living. However this situation will continue as there are simply no votes in improving lawyers' pay or conditions.
Paul Goddard, London
I am about to embark on the professional training to become a Barrister as well as actively applying for Pupillage.(Apprenticeship stage) Already many students are being dissuaded from pursuing a career in the criminal Bar because the rate of pay is so bad that one cannot make a living from it. This means that in the long term there will be a severe shortage of criminal barristers and an adverse impact on ethnic/gender diversity for the Bar and the Judiciary in the future.
D Martin, Dorset
The criminal bar is an attractive potential career to the undergraduate, the reality however is one of despondency and looking for alternative remuneration and career. If undergraduates realised the reality, there would in current circumstances be no criminal bar.
Jonathan Pemberton, London,UK
As does not seem to be any great shortage of suitably qualified people seeking entry to the profession, there does not seem to be any need for upping the (market) rates for their services.
L Poulter, Essex