The verdict is in: Legal aid cuts leave ‘fat cat lawyers’ five times fatter than average

New figures expose the hollowness of Daily Mail class war


When, early in the last parliament, the Tory led coalition government announced cuts to the budget for legal aid – whereby the state pays for legal representation for defendants who are unable to pay for it themselves – it was warmly welcomed by the Daily Mail newspaper.

A series of editorials over a number of years denounced the ‘fat cat’ lawyers getting rich on the legal aid ‘gravy train’, claiming money was being wasted defending asylum seekers and terrorists.

Others warned that the cuts, which saw the first strikes in the British legal profession’s history, would actually fall on low-paid lawyers, and throw poor defendants to the tender mercies of the market, thereby restricting their access to justice.

Well, the verdict is in, as a new report finds top earning lawyers are paid five times more than their colleagues, while criminal cases fall by the wayside.

As the Times reports, analysis of tax returns from LDF, an independent finance provider, ‘show that reports of the death of the ‘fat cat’ barrister have been widely exaggerated’. While average income for barristers rose to £118,000 in 2012-13, up from £108,000,

“In reality, top corporate barristers will be earning on average up to five times more, with a handful on lucrative briefs for big company work earning £1 million a year and beyond.”

Meanwhile, thousands handling legal aid cases earn less than a quarter of the £118,000 average, while some earn less than the minimum wage, according to chairman of the Bar, Alistair MacDonald QC:

Half of those doing criminal work earned less than £50,000 in 2012-13 before overheads — a net income of £27,000 a year, he added.”

Meanwhile, poor defendants are being advised to plead guilty in order to save money, while justice secretary Michael Gove only dropped a policy for defendants to pay for the cost of their trial after organised opposition.

With the legal aid budget set to be cut by a further 8.75 per cent, it’s worth noting how this policy’s defenders in the Daily Mail were completely, utterly wrong about what would happen.

As so often, their phoney class war justifications (‘why are we filling the coffers of rich lawyers?’) gave cover for this government’s actual class war on society’s most vulnerable – and, as predicted, on the principle of equal access to justice.


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Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter

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