Electricians now earn more than young criminal barristers says Sir Richard Henriques

Jessica Carpani
Electricians now earn more than young criminal barristers says Sir Richard Henriques

Electricians now earn more than young criminal barristers, according to Sir Richard Henriques, as he says the profession is struggling to attract the brightest minds.

Former high court judge in England and Wales, Sir Richard Henriques, has said that a career in criminal law is no longer attracting the “highest calibre” candidates due to austerity.

He told the BBC Radio 4's The Today Programme on Monday: “Over the last decade or so legal aid fees have been reduced and further reduced and it means a career in the criminal law either as a solicitor or a barrister is no longer attracting young people of the highest calibre.

“There is an acute shortage of young solicitor advocates and the criminal bar has been really reduced to a really modest affair." 

Sir Richard, who as a barrister and a judge has been involved in high profile cases including the murders of James Bulger and Jill Dando, said that his godson left law to join financial services after two years at the bar, where “morale is acutely low”.

Discussing the impact of austerity on the criminal justice system in England and Wales, he added: “I'm quite sure that's happening across the board, I'm equally sure that my electrician earns more than a young member of the bar.

“Surely that can't be right when 24 - 25 is the age when most young barristers start to earn a living.”

young electrician working on a remodel  - sturti 

Last year, Chris Henley, who chairs the Criminal Bar Association, said “fees for prosecuting produce hourly rates worse than wages at McDonald's”.

According to Mr Henley a barrister could be paid £46.50 for a full night of preparation and a day in court, working out at about £5 an hour.

The average pay for a junior criminal barrister with up to 15 years experience is about £40,000 a year but this falls to about £28,000 once you subtract the fees to rent chambers and other costs, according to figures from the Bar Council last year. 

Employment agency Reed estimates that the average electrician salary in the UK is £33,746. 

Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar Council, said that young barristers has been “shockingly underpaid for over a decade” and wages from their work in the magistrates’ courts are “so poorly paid” that after travel costs and expenses “there’s often nothing left”.

She added: “We have had reports of criminal barristers doing night shifts in Tesco, outside court hours, to help make ends meet.”

Simon Davis, Law Society of England and Wales president said: “Defence solicitors have not received an increase in fees since the 1990s and are fast becoming an endangered species - in five years’ time, some regions will have no duty solicitors at all.”

“Knowing this, fewer new solicitors are choosing to enter criminal law as opting for other areas of legal practice as a more sustainable career choice.”

Firms are also struggling due to the lockdown with research by the Law Society finding that 65 per cent of small firms doing legal aid work said they might not survive longer than three months without Government help.

Sir Richard, who also carried out the independent review of the Met police’s handling of claims by Carl Beech, is currently promoting his new book From Crime to Crime.