Criminal trials in Britain will be cut down to size in an attempt to save money, Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, announced yesterday.

Plans to cut the amount of money spent on legal aid and stop criminal trials over-running in England and Wales are to be unveiled by the Lord Chancellor.

Under the proposals, lawyers would bid for legal aid contracts and they would have to foot the bill if a criminal case lasted longer than expected.

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

The Bar Council said it was wrong to suggest lawyers exploited the system.

It said the fees earned by criminal barristers at some hearings were below the rates charged by plumbers.

Bar Council chairman Guy Mansfield QC said the current system for paying barristers in criminal cases was “antiquated” and based on pay structures agreed 10 years ago.

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