The Lord Chancellor has frozen lawyers' fees for criminal legal aid work in the magistrates' court for the fourth year in a row.
Lord Irvine also warned yesterday that payments made to barristers may be slashed, claiming they are "excessive" compared with those made to other publicly-funded professionals.
He says: "I am considering whether fees claimed by counsel in cases outside the graduated fee scheme may be excessive and whether the graduated fee scheme itself is too generous. I am therefore considering whether remuneration levels in these areas should be reduced." He calls for lawyers to produce evidence to justify their fees before 31 January 2000.
The Lord Chancellor also says he has "grave reservations" about the proposed standard fee scheme for family law litigators. Such a scheme, he says, would not provide the degree of control over expenditure that he wants and concludes it should not be introduced at present. A Law Society spokesman describes the freeze on current remuneration rates as "essentially a backwards step".