Advocates are ‘seriously questioning’ whether a career at the criminal bar is financially viable, the barristers’ representative body has said, as it warns the government that the situation is fast approaching the point of no return.
Responding to the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) consultation on injecting £15m into the advocates graduated fee scheme (AGFS) the Bar Council said ‘we are now at a pivotal point’.
Barristers have already warned that a ‘no returns’ policy, whereby they would refuse both new work and cases that come from colleagues who have other commitments, could be reinstated. Action was due to come into force earlier this year but was suspended after barristers voted to accept the MoJ’s offer.
However, the Bar Council and Criminal Bar Association (CBA) say they have since discovered that the £15m offer is based on previous calculations of the scheme and actually amounts to £8.6m. AGFS fees are still in real terms approximately 40% lower than they were ten years ago, the bar council added.
The response references a survey the Bar Council conducted earlier this year which showed that 48% of the criminal bar are unable to balance their home and work lives and that 33% said they would leave the profession if they could.
‘The Bar Council underlines in the strongest terms that we are at a pivotal point: many advocates now seriously question whether there is a financially viable future career at the criminal Bar,’ the council said.
In a bid to save face amid growing anger from sectors of the profession, the Bar Council also hit out at those who have labelled the revised AGFS as the ‘Bar’s scheme’.
‘Many barristers thought that the Bar Council, CBA and the Circuits played a large part in its design but to describe it as the ‘Bar’s scheme’ is a lazy label and not accurate,’ the response states. The council said it and the CBA did assist in the design of a scheme (including the banding of offences) but that the fee levels they suggested were not adopted by the MoJ.