Young Barristers’ fees in the Magistrates’ Court
Young Barristers’ Committee carried out a survey in 2016, to investigate whether the issue about poor or no remuneration of young barristers in Magistrates’ Courts had changed since the publication of the Protocol.
We received 292 responses in total, which is approximately 25% of the estimated 1140 practising in criminal law. These figures are based on the Bar Standard Board’s statistics for Feb 2014, which featured in the Jeffrey review.
The findings highlighted the following:
- This issue is prevalent among young criminal barristers, and does not just affect pupils, as some may think. 75% of respondents were tenants in Chambers.
- The effectiveness of the protocol is somewhat questionable as less than half of the respondents (43%) were aware of the Bar Council Protocol for Payment of Fees in the Magistrates’ Court.
- Fees received for work in the Magistrates’ Court also fall well below the levels outlined in the Protocol. For example, barristers are meant to be paid £150 for 1-day trial, as per the protocol, but the vast majority received around £100 (gross).
- Over half (58%) of the respondents had been instructed for a hearing in the Magistrates’ Court for which they understood they would not be paid. This raises ethical issues of referral fees as the only conceivable reason for non-payment would be that counsel are being offered for free in return for solicitors briefing chambers with bigger cases.
- Average aged debt from magistrates’ court work is significant.
- Delays in payment are a problem. Young barristers reported that majority of fees (64%) are paid somewhere between 1-6 months after the hearing. 24% are paid between 6-12 months afterwards, and 10% are only paid after more than a year.
- When asked who they thought was responsible for delays in payment; 70% blamed instructing solicitors; 10% said it was the LAA; and 2% pointed the finger at clerks or chambers (8% weren’t sure).
- That is not to say young barristers accept their current state as the norm without a fight. 69% of the respondents stated that they had raised concerns in Chambers over fee levels/delays in payment. However, the vast majority said that nothing changed.
Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC) are committed to supporting young barristers, and with a growing awareness of the increase in digitisation in the justice system, it appears that the answer may lie in the modernisation of how counsel’s fees are paid for Magistrates’ Court work. The likelihood of a direct electronic payment process to counsel for advocacy in Magistrates’ Courts is currently being explored.
YBC have begun a process of engagement within and outside of the profession, and welcome your views on this topic. If you have suggestions, please email us at YBC@BarCouncil.org.uk.