The Bar Council has welcomed the publication of Lord Carter's first report on the procurement of legal aid as an important first step.
However, it has warned that the proposed new structure will need to be properly resourced if the public interest is to be met and quality maintained.
Stephen Hockman QC, Bar Chairman, said today:
?Criminal barristers doing 95% of cases have endured a 10-year pay freeze, which has cut their income by at least 25% in real terms. That cannot continue.
?This report is a move towards ensuring that we have a sustainable system for paying barristers doing criminal trials.
?It responds positively to many of the recommendations we made in the course of Lord Carter?s review.
?The Bar Council recognises that the legal aid system must be reformed and routinely reviewed if it is to retain public confidence and the support of the profession.
?We await Lord Carter?s crucial second report which must recommend the necessary finance to make the system work. There is a pressing need to redistribute income to the most junior barristers doing 1-10 day cases.?
Nicholas Hilliard, Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said:
?Until we see the numbers to be associated with the proposed new structure, the jury will still be out on whether this package will defuse the legal aid crisis, which saw many criminal barristers turn their backs on publicly funded work last year.
?We will work with Lord Carter to make sure that the necessary redistribution to the junior Bar becomes a reality soon after the final report. We hope that the new structure and the new figures that Lord Carter recommends will provide a sustainable and long-term settlement for the legal aid system.?
Tom Little, Chairman of the Young Barristers? Committee of the Bar Council said:
?The young barristers I represent are struggling to make a living on the derisory pay rates prevailing under the existing system, which sees as little as ?46.50 paid for a hearing that can take hours to prepare.
?Whilst we welcome proposals for an efficient new system, which may seek to address this problem and ensure the long term future for legal aid, we are disappointed that we still cannot see what money will be available for this new structure.
?Without such information, it is impossible to judge whether the new system will be sufficient to secure the future of a strong and diverse junior Bar, attracting the best and the brightest to work in this key area of public justice, and enabling the junior Bar to continue to make the vital contribution it does to the criminal justice system.?