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Panel members to be cut from 150 to 100; ninety-four barristers asked to reapply
Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General, is cutting the number of barristers on the Government's provincial panel by a third. At the same time, he has terminated the appointments of almost two-thirds of the existing panel, although they are now allowed to reapply for the new, smaller panel. Goldsmith, who is reducing the number of provincial panel barristers from 150 to 100, has written to 94 of the 150 members of the exisiting panel informing them that their panel membership will expire on 31 March 2003. This panel comprises barristers who act on behalf of many Government departments. The 94 appointments were made before the 1999-2000 recruitment round. The 56 remaining panel members will continue to act for the Government. Goldsmith will start recruiting 44 new members in May with a closing date of 28 June this year. The new members have to be advocates of between two and 15 years call. Those who have had their panel membership terminated have also been encouraged to apply. Ironically, these significant cuts coincide with a massive growth in Government legal work, which has been attributed to the incorporation of the Human Rights Act into English and Welsh law and an increase in personal injury work arising particularly out of claims by soldiers for post-traumatic stress disorder. The cuts also take place alongside a rate of growth of Government lawyers of 1,000 per cent since New Labour took power in 1997. This growth represents an addition of nearly 500 extra lawyers to the Government's legal team (The Lawyer, 28 January). A spokesman from the Attorney-General's office said: "We are trying to get barristers with less experience because at the moment the panel members are very experienced. They [those hired prior to 1999, subject to the termination] have been on the panel for a long time and do not have enough work to do." The termination letter sent by Goldsmith, which has been seen by The Lawyer, states that the provincial panel is too large. It adds that there is a lack of counsel under 10 years call in addition to an under-representation among certain specialisms. Goldsmith's move follows a Government legal service overhaul of the way it pays barristers by establishing a single rate for each panel of barristers handling Government work (The Lawyer, 22 April). Barristers are no longer paid a brief fee but a standard rate per hour. Since these changes, some sets handling work for the Inland Revenue have reported cuts in their fees of 75 per cent. One member of the panel whose appointment has been terminated said: "I wonder whether what is going on is that some people on the panel, because the way they were appointed through the local agent to the Treasury Solicitor, should not be there at all. So rather than removing some, Goldsmith has removed them all and asked some to reapply, some of whom will get in on the nod." The barrister added that there is already such a shortage of provincial panel members in his area that some of the work has to be referred to the Treasury Solicitor panels in London.