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The Inland Revenue has dramatically reduced the fees it pays to barristers, in some cases by up to 75 per cent
It comes at a time when the Government Legal Service (GLS) is overhauling the way in which it pays barristers by establishing a single rate for each panel of barristers doing Government work. Under this new system, which is not yet fully implemented, non-silks are no longer paid a so-called 'brief fee'. This was paid to counsel for accepting a case and for the time spent preparing it. Instead, they are now paid on a fixed hourly rate, which is set according to whether the counsel is a member of the Treasury Solicitor's London A, B or C panel, or of the provincial panel for barristers outside the capital. This affects most of the 333 counsel in England and Wales who are members of panels doing work for the various Government departments, although silks are not affected. A senior clerk at one leading set said: "Now we're light years away from the way we were paid before the changes." He said his counsel's fees are now only a quarter of what they used to be. "They pay us on a time-costed, or refresher, basis. This involves payments on an hourly basis. Traditionally, we were paid for preparation work plus a brief fee and refresher work," he added. Despite the cuts, the clerk said that Government departments still expect counsel to act for them "as duty to their country rather than being commercial about it". A clerk at another set said: "The Revenue are the lowest payers among the Government departments. They may pay £500 for five hours work, when in fact you've done 10 hours work." The administration manager of the litigation division of the Treasury Solicitor's Department Christopher Simson, who wrote letters to chambers about the changes, said: "[They took place] because a lot of time was being wasted with squabbles about fees. For example, brief fees meant all sorts of different things to different people."