Leading Counsel’s Fees in Legal Aid Cases

Chris Grayling’s need to trim £1 billion from the legal aid budget has caused him to attack the fees being paid to silks in legal aid cases.

Frances Gibb in an article on the topic in The Law Page of The Times quotes what Chris Grayling said on the Today programme on Radio 4:

“If you look at the daily rate for a senior QC it can be between £1,300 and £2,000. For somebody who’s going to become a QC in a month’s time, it’s just over half that amount. The question is: can we really afford so often to use people who are paid such an additional higher rate compared with somebody who’s nearly as experienced as a seriously competent barrister, who will become a QC one day if they choose to do so. … The reason I’m starting this discussion, and I’ll be talking to the Bar Council and others, is that in some cases we’re now spending £500,000 or more on legal fees.”

This provoked the following response from Nigel Sangster QC:

“The Justice Secretary has displayed a woeful lack of understanding of the legal profession. The vast majority of barristers never become QCs. The rank of QC is a hard-won mark of distinction, awarded to under 10 per cent of the profession after rigorous analysis by your peers. Every judge that I have ever spoken to would prefer the most serious cases to prosecuted and defended by QCs, who spend their entire time dealing with heavyweight work and have the experience to handle complex cases.

I also dispute the figures given by Grayling for the cost of using a QC. We are not paid £1,500 to £2,000 a day. The fee for a full day in court for a VHCC case is £476, and that includes two hours of work in the evening. If the court day is less than three hours, the daily refresher is reduced to £238.

We all appreciate the need to control costs. However, justice for victims and those accused of crimes demands that the best people are briefed in the most serious cases. The QC system, developed and refined over many years, is internationally recognised as marking out the best people.

And what of the money that is recovered from convicted defendants? Even if the Government won’t adopt the policy of allowing frozen funds to be used to pay defence lawyers’ fees, they could at least have the decency to acknowledge that confiscated funds are often far in excess of the cost of the legal aid paid out.

I have a case where the prosecution began by asking the court to confiscate £42 million from a convicted money launderer. Even if only half that is recovered, it will be more than I will earn in my entire career from legal aid.”