A leading barrister stopped representing his client in the middle of a fraud trial after his daily rate was reduced to £600 when the man ran out of funds and had to take legal aid.
Alun Jones, a Queen’s Counsel who had already earned more than £250,000 from the fraud case, pulled out when his client was forced to claim legal aid. That meant that instead of the £3,000 a day that Mr Jones had previously been paid, his fee was cut to a fifth of that amount.
The Bar Council described the case as “highly unusual”, but stressed that Mr Jones was not in breach of the rules of his profession. A barrister or QC was entitled to stop representing a client who switched from a private fee to being funded by the Legal Aid Board. Other lawyers claimed that Mr Jones was guilty of “very poor form” and criticised his decision to abandon the case.
The controversy emerged at the end of the trial of Carl Cushnie, a businessman convicted at Southwark Crown Court, in London, last week for his part in one of Britain’s biggest accountancy frauds.
Mr Jones, 55, was hired by Cushnie 18 months before the trial and is likely to have negotiated a non-returnable signing-on fee – known in legal circles as a “brief” – estimated at £200,000, which included preparatory work. He then represented Cushnie for almost four weeks of the 19-week hearing.
Cushnie, who before the trial was hailed as one of Britain’s most successful black businessmen, was convicted last Tuesday of conspiring to defraud “traders” who lent tens of millions of pounds to Versailles, his trade finance group, and will be sentenced on June 8. He was, however, cleared of a second, broader, conspiracy charge.
Cushnie is understood to have been “disappointed” that someone with Mr Jones’s experience and persuasive qualities was no longer representing him, but was satisfied with the way Alexander Cameron, QC, who had been Mr Jones’s junior, handled the remainder of the trial.
Jo Rickards, a solicitor at Peters & Peters, the law firm that represented Cushnie, said: “Neither Mr Cushnie nor I wish to comment on the decision by Mr Jones.” Mr Jones also refused to comment on the grounds of client confidentiality.
Some criminal barristers believe that Mr Jones, who has a reputation as being brilliant but eccentric, behaved badly. “Most criminal QCs would consider this to be very poor form indeed,” said one senior barrister.