Lords accuse clerks of deliberately inflating fees

Barristers' clerks have been accused of “deliberately pitching fees at a very high level” by a House of Lords report into counsels' fees released last week.

The report follows the unprecedented hearing last June into the fees claimed by four top QCs – Michael Mansfield, Peter Feinberg, Richard Henriques and Christopher Sallon.

Although the report said these QCs had done nothing “discreditable or improper”, it made it clear that the level of fees paid in such cases was “wholly out of line”.

It said the disparity could be due to clerks deliberately pitching the amount claimed at a very high level.

The document went on: “There is a fine line between claiming a fee at the top end of a reasonable scale and claiming a fee which is obviously excessive.”

It then called upon the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, to produce clearer guidance on what was a reasonable fee.

Stephen Graham, chairman of the Institute of Barrister's Clerks (IBC), said: “The present system is one of negotiation. We are happy to discuss new guidelines to regulate fees.”

In a memo leaked to The Lawyer in August, the Bar Council admitted that some barristers were charging “ludicrously high fees”.

The Bar Council is considering tightening up its rules to make it easier to discipline barristers who charge excessive fees.