Taxpayer funding for criminal defence should to go to less-expensive lawyers than QCs, Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, said today.

Grayling used an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to criticise the way the annual £1bn criminal legal aid budget is spent, particularly the proportion used to instruct QCs.

He said: ‘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, who's a seriously competent barrister, who will become a QC one day if they choose to do so.’

Grayling said: ‘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.’

On the same programme, bar chair Maura McGowan QC said further cuts to criminal legal aid would be damaging. She likened the use of inexperienced barristers to a junior doctor performing complex surgery.

Meanwhile, the Bar Council has begun its search for a new chief executive. It has been without one since its former chief executive, David Hobart, joined the City of London Law Society in May 2011.

According to an advertisement in The Sunday Times, ‘Strong candidates will be proven general managers with considerable financial acumen.’