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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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).