Alison Levitt, a barrister at 25 Bedford Row and assistant secretary of the CBA, argued that the effective 23% cut in pay in real terms for one to ten-day trials ? caused by the freezing of rates since the mid-1990s ? disproportionately affected female practitioners.
She pointed out that women barristers undertake a large proportion of cases involving serious sexual offences, the majority of which fall within the band of trials lasting up to ten days, and that unlike their male counterparts, many have practices that are solely or predominantly made up of such cases.
She said: ?The [government?s] current policy on legal aid pay for sex cases has the effect of depressing women barristers? income compared with that of their male counterparts, in a way which might constitute indirect discrimination.?
Ms Levitt added: ?This is not only unfair, but may have an effect upon their willingness to remain in practice, which in turn reduces the pool of women candidates available
for possible appointments to silk or the judiciary.?
The CBA accepted that the government had not sought deliberately to discriminate, but rather that it was ?an unforeseen consequence of a crude system?. The bar hopes to persuade the government to bring pay rates into line with inflation, which it estimates would cost ?9 million, before Lord Carter reports in spring 2006.
Ms Levitt warned that the mood among the bar in general ?is one of fury? and added that she would not be surprised if individual barristers refused to accept briefs for publicly funded work.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Constitutional Affairs said the entire legal aid fee system would be looked at in the round by Lord Carter, and these comments should be given to his team with evidence to support them.