Some junior barristers are being paid less than the minimum wage after decades of government underfunding, the Bar Council has said in a paper submitted to the Treasury ahead of the forthcoming spending review.

According to the paper, publicly funded criminal barristers typically earn less than £13,000 per year pre-tax during their first two years of practice, after they have paid essential expenses and memberships. This works out at £6.25 per hour if they worked 40-hour weeks. The National Minimum Wage for over-18s starts at £6.45 per hour.

The Bar Council said low pay is putting the sustainability of the legal profession ‘in jeopardy’ and will have ‘a disproportionate impact on diversity in our profession’.

In a series of five recommendations, it urges the government to invest properly by increasing the justice budget by £2.48bn - an extra 22p per person per day. It also calls for early legal advice to be included in the government’s commitment to ‘levelling up’ deprived areas and to make non-means tested legal aid available for all domestic abuse cases.

The Bar Council’s spending review submission showed that annual justice spending in England and Wales has fallen by almost 30% per person in real terms between 2010-2019. Within that, the Crown Prosecution Service saw a 39% reduction in spending per person in real terms and the Legal Aid Agency a 37% reduction.

Bar chair Amanda Pinto QC said: ‘The spending review is the government’s chance to protect the rights of the British public and restore confidence in law and order in this country. For too long, there has been a dismal failure to invest in the Ministry of Justice budget, and many barristers were left unsupported by the government, struggling to get by, as courts closed during the pandemic and their work dried up.

‘The justice sector is now in a dire state: outrageously long delays to people’s cases and shockingly low fees for legal professionals are undermining the government’s commitment to law and order.’