Are QCs paid too much?January 25, 2013
There’s much talk at the moment on the pay gap between a QC and a slightly more junior barrister. For example, it’s been reported that the daily rate for a higher-ranking QC can be between £1,300 and £2,000, whereas for somebody who’s going to become a QC in a month’s time, it’s just over half that amount. So, at a time when pay in the legal profession is under constant scrutiny, it begs the question: are the two letters worth such a high salary?
Well the problem was discussed this week in The Times, with Justice Secretary Chris Grayling questioning why the Government should have to pay double in legal aid fees for a QC compared to a barrister with less experience. The argument is that, yes everyone deserves a defence, but when you look at the costs involved in some cases, there’s a real question of whether it is appropriate to spend taxpayers’ money in this way. As Grayling pointed out, can we really afford to pay individuals such a high rate instead of using a barrister who’s nearly as experienced and who will become a QC one day if they choose to do so?
Whilst this is a valid question, it’s clear that the issue is complex, as highlighted by Maura McGowan, QC, chairman of the Bar Council. She disagreed with the Justice Secretary, suggesting that it wasn’t the case of simply hiring slightly more junior barristers who are just as good but on lower rates of pay. In fact, further cuts to pay would be damaging, and she compared using inexperienced barristers for big criminal cases to getting a junior doctor to do complex surgery.
There is also the argument that most barristers don’t actually become QCs, and there are only very few at the top of their game with the experience of difficult cases. If inexperienced advocates take on such challenges, yes it might save on short-term costs, but could result in mistakes, appeals and retrials.
From a QC’s point of view, it seems that Grayling is showing a lack of understanding of how the legal profession actually works. And, whilst there is a great need to control costs, the importance of justice for victims and those accused of crimes means that the best people are being briefed for the most serious cases.
There’s no doubt that this is an issue that will continue to make the headlines, and it’s clear that a compromise isn’t going to be reached in the near future. However, the pay gap in law, as in any sector, is not something that can be ignored. And I wonder, would a junior barrister have the same take on this as a QC?
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