Life at the Bar · The Future

Misinformation By Public Bodies

Ahead of Monday’s action (reminder: which I reluctantly support), the MoJ has published an “Ad Hoc Statistical Release”. Its purpose is clearly to prejudice readers, which will include the media, against the Bar. As such it is a disgusting piece of work – a Ministry should not seek to argue a political case against a group of private citizens at all, still less by the use of data obtained in an effort to promote ‘efficiency’. The counter-argument is that everyone is entitled to “the truth”. Alas, that argument cannot properly be deployed in this case because:

  • These figures have not previously been released. They have not been reviewed by any neutral body and have not previously been thought necessary.
  • However, the MoJ says that “These data are released to address the public interest in the area and provides [sic] improvements to previous published figures that will add to the additional information in the upcoming consultation response“. The grammar suggests speed at which this has been done. How you add to additional information is unknown. The gobbledegook is strongly suggestive of an attempt to blather on.
  • The MoJ says that 25% of barristers “earn” £100k. You have to look at the footnotes to see that the figures include VAT. The statement is therefore a lie: any barrister making more than £100k will be paying VAT. For the sake of accuracy, just under 20% of barristers make more than £100k in fact. The MoJ’s argument therefore appears to be with 1 in 5 barristers.
  • The footnotes also make clear that this is not “earnings” referable to any particular period. It is not annual income. In those circumstances, the reference to “earnings”, if not a lie is, as Damon Runyon says, as close to a lie as will make no difference.
  • It is unclear whether these figures are up to date as the prosecution reductions coming into force last year may not have filtered through.
  • The VHCC payments figure includes 343 ‘barristers’ paid off-panel. However, these are referred to in the footnotes as ‘advocates’ suggesting at least the possibility that these 342 people are solicitors or employees of solicitors acting as junior.Otherwise more than 50% of VHCC work is being done by barristers not on the panel.

The mean income from prosecution work is £23,298. From defence work it is £39,202. From VHCCs (which as the footnotes make clear are done by 296 panel barristers and 342 ‘advocates’  paid via a firm) it is £45,455. The figures do not include the numbers of people in each earning band, save for the total figure. Given this elementary, schoolchild (NB: political right on-ness) error, it is hard to see how these figures can be ‘helpful’ unless the help is to trash the opposition.  The willingness of MoJ senior staff to permit this is a breach of the civil service code. 

Thus the mean figures for crime using the defence figure (as that earned by 85% of barristers) and the prosecution figure added together – which is giving the MoJ all the best of it – is £62,500. If you don’t do prosecution and defence then – on the basis of these figures – your income will be significantly reduced. The MoJ gets to its mean figure by including civil work. At the very least, this artificially inflates ‘earnings’ by 7.5%. Net of VAT the criminal earnings mean is £52,083.

As the footnotes also make clear, these figures do not include disbursements. Let us assume that expenses run at 33%. This is probably a large underestimate, as we are including travel, chambers expenses, and (hollow laugh) pension provision, as well as books, computers and online subscriptions. That produces a taxable income of £36,459. That is the true figure of mean earnings.

What the ad hoc release wholly omits to say is that the gross figure for defence earnings is to be reduced by 30% (17.5% for VHCCs). That means: gross mean income (applying the appropriate deductions) £49,563; net of VAT £42,170; taxable income £27,832.

That is the mean figure for all barristers not doing VHCC work. Which is to say, assuming the MoJ have counted barristers only in its VHCC ‘advocates’, 4293 barristers out of 4931.

The good news is that if a barrister is charged with a criminal offence they will be eligible for legal aid if their partner earns less than about £35,000 pa. That is because the people doing the job of defending those accused will earn less than the minimum figure, above which the government thinks it fair to take a contribution for legal representation. Irony.

It should not need a barrister to make these points. What I have done is to take the MoJ’s own statistics – lousy though they are – and simply apply some basic mathematics to ensure that they tell the truth. At present – assuming the definition of truth to be an account that would not attract a perjury charge if given from the witness box – they are a lie. It has taken me about an hour to do this. I don’t believe the MoJ is so overstretched that it could not afford the time.

The contact point for these statistics is Victoria Buxton. I don’t make a habit of naming individuals but Victoria Buxton is the Chief Press Officer and describes her role in breathless terms. Consequently, and in line with the MoJ’s own transparency policy (more irony) I intend to email her (address provided by MoJ, not me) at and tell her that the Ministry’s Ad Hoc Statistical Release is mendacious bullshit, utilising government resources to lie about the position of individual citizens in an attempt to sully the action being taken by the Bar. I shall suggest that she passes this post on to those responsible for its content and invites them to issue an Ad Hoc Correction and Apology. Perhaps you might like to do the same?

I don’t like strike action but this type of behaviour does seem to me to offer conclusive proof that the Ministry of Justice, its Ministers and Civil Servants, are simply untrustworthy. You cannot negotiate with people like that.

P.S. Happy New Year (irony).


27 thoughts on “Misinformation By Public Bodies

  1. No barrister earning less than £77,000 should be VAT registered.

    The earnings don’t appear to include private client work.

    1. I wish I wasn’t VAT registered. I certainly don’t meet the criteria for compulsory registration. Most of us are obliged to be VAT registered by our chambers and for purely practical reasons. Since the introduction of the “instructed advocate” system of payment a non-VAT registered barrister could find himself out of pocket by many thousands if he has to return a brief to a VAT registered barrister, The instructed barrister is paid without any claim for VAT but is then liable to the barrister he returned the brief to for the same fee plus VAT. I was quite happy on the flat rate system of VAT for many years until I came very unstuck by this anomaly and found myself out of pocket when I had to return a large brief and settle up with the person who took it over.

      1. Oh, and that’s the other thing. These figures being touted as our “earnings” are our “turnover”. Apart from our major expenses (chambers’ rent, clerks’ fees and travel costs) most of us will have had to return a few briefs to other barristers over the course of a tax year when a trial we’re on unexpectedly overruns. Because we will receive the brief fee it comes into account as the fee paid to us. However it’s straight out of our accounts to the barrister we have to settle up with. Actually, in my case it doesn’t even hit my account because chambers receives the payment and carries out the accounting exercise!

  2. Lots of people are VAT registered under the limit, because it enables you to claim the VAT back on some expenses. The 33% figure for overheads that I have given includes the element of VAT reclaim. Of course, the amount of VAT payable could easily be calculated by the MoJ because they have everyone’s VAT number. If you have a VAT number you pay VAT. Simples.

    Private work? For most of the people I am talking about it doesn’t exist.

    If, by any chance, you are linked to the MoJ and would like to crunch the numbers differently, I undertake to publish your work as a Post, unedited. Feel free.

  3. I agree with your main thesis but…

    Data is a plural noun (plural of datum), so your sic is misplaced.

    Sic not, lest you yourself be sic-ed.

  4. Isn’t the 3rd year of the 2010 defence fee cuts also excluded from these figure. If I’m right about that then as of this current financial year those income figures can be further reduced by another 4.5%.

  5. With regard to some of the points in the comments:
    1. Certainly at our Chambers VAT registration is compulsory because of the difficulties in administering instructed / substitute advocate payments if some are / some are not VAT registered. I understand this practice is widespread for criminal chambers.
    2. For the vast majority of barristers undertaking criminal work, there is no privately paid work in my experience.
    3. A real expense for many criminal barristers is servicing loans taken out at the start of a career to finance university tuition fees and living costs, vocational training and living costs, and the early less remunerative time start of a career while waiting for fees to be paid. The Young Barristers’ Committee has calculated this figure can be in excess of £75,000. A loan of that figure at 7.5% interest would be £5625 per annum in simple interest alone before repaying the capital.
    I would suggest all three of these points would need to be taken into account when interpreting the MOJ figures and considering their significance.

  6. Victoria seemed curiously unwilling to engage with my email and said I had to email the people who provide the statistics. I did.

    However, she does have to deal with the Press so perhaps Counsel Magazine could be encouraged to discuss this with her.

  7. Why is there such a jump in barristers making 200-250K (compared to the other groups over 100K). The table is in addition misrepresenting as fee is nit shown in relation to their actual costs the costs for barristers under 100K versus 2 barristers in the over 600K.

  8. Is it not Mark Edwardes ( who is responsible for this unaudited farrago? He’s the person who’s put his name at the foot of the document without reference to the NAO. Presumably this was signed off by PUS – at least?

  9. Chucking argument about tense, plurality and grammar back and forth does nothing to address the real problem, which is we are being led by a bunch a dishonest and dishonourable bunch of hypocrites

      1. I meant one or two of the comments. These blogs only do any good if they get read by the wider public not just by the already converted so I think we need to stick to the subject in hand if we can.

  10. Reblogged this on Supporting UK Justice: For the Defence! by a layman and commented:
    War on the Bar
    The CBA have been totally right to engage with those of their Colleagues expressing doubts and misgivings about the forthcoming Nationwide Bar Action, it indicates integrity, a willingless to have one’s most cherished beliefs questioned and a desire to have one’s arguments or ‘args’ scrutinized. It takes great humility when the Criminal Bar is under unprecedented financial and mission-critical pressures to do so because it acknowledges that Consensus won totally laudably IMHO can be subject to collective forensic self examination

    So trust the MOJ to come up with Canards ahead of the Action!
    I think we can fairly rely on the MOJ to do what it can to undermine The Bar under the pretext that it wishes to provide a Service via ABS’s , Stobart et al and that it professes noble aims in it’s claims to wish to cut down excessive costs for which the Bar is blamed. Eg VHCC Costs which is how Justice is served. And the very few high earning QC’s.
    The MOJ makes the most of public ignorance as to WHY these costs are incurred and seeks to eliminate the causes of the problem ie make VHCC’s so QCs can’t afford to do them.
    We must be doing the right thing for the MOJ which under #failinggrayling #flailinggrayling to attack us in so mendacious a fashion.

  11. ” I am sorry but it seems to be a complete waste of time trying to get honest or coherent answers from the MoJ. I have learnt my lessons and won’t waste time responding to any future consultations.” My e-maul to Dr Gibby last July.

    In addition the NAO were unable to verify the MOJ figures – my MP is still pushing for answers on the PDS but they seem unable to be able to find the right data,

  12. Miss Buxton’s reply at 23.37 on 4/1/14 (no doubt she will claim or be paid for such long hours) :

    Good evening

    This is not a press release it is a statistical release. These are compiled and issued by independent statisticians based within Government departments. They are not a product press office has involvement in writing or issuing.

    Therefore I am afraid you have been wrongly informed about who to contact.

    If you wish to raise any concerns or queries about the content published in a statistical note the best contact is


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