Moves to reduce drastically the fees that barristers earn in long, complex cases will put at risk 14 terrorism trials due to start next year, the new head of the Bar will say today.
Tim Dutton, QC, said that the reforms — intended to replace the present rates, which have led to some barristers earning £1 million a year from legal aid — could backfire.
In an interview with The Times, he said that the scheme, which is due to start on January 14, will mean barristers involved in most middle-ranking terrorism, fraud and murder cases earning as little as £89 an hour. If they were working privately, the fee could be £500 an hour.
“There is a real danger that we are not going to attract the best advocates into the hardest cases,” he said.
The scheme applies to the 100 longest and most complex trials, including terrorism, murder and fraud, which last for more than 40 days and at present cost £100 million in legal aid fees. Mr Dutton said: “We must get the payment system right so that quality barristers, who are work fast and efficiently, are fairly paid.”
If the best advocates did not do the job, a two-tier system would emerge, with top QCs doing private work only, he cautioned.
But David Keegan, an official with the Legal Services Commission, which has proposed the new scheme, said that teams of solicitors with barristers had been invited to tender for the work and 382 teams had applied. “We are confident that we will have sufficient lawyers of good quality to take these cases at the best rate for the taxpayer.”