Legal aid earnings: 2 Bedford Row tops DCA table with £3.7m in fees

Jim Sturman QC of 2 Bedford Row became the highest-paid criminal defence barrister last year, with fees of £1.2m from legal aid.

The high-profile silk said he supported the position of barristers planning to strike over the low rate of legal aid paid in shorter criminal cases, and if his diary was not already booked up he would be refusing cases brought under the controversial ‘graduated fee scheme’.

Sturman’s fees were revealed in the Department for Constitutional Affairs’ latest list of those barristers who have received the most fees from criminal legal aid over the past three years.
2 Bedford Row is well represented throughout the period, with four barristers receiving an aggregate total of £3.7m. Sturman appears twice, having been paid £626,000 in 2002-04 in addition to last year’s fees. Speaking to The Lawyer, Sturman hit out at the Government’s stance on legal aid and what is spent on it.

“The Government is responsible for huge amounts of it themselves by bringing huge cases that fail,” he said, adding that 65 per cent of the fees he received last year came from one large-scale case in which he was involved from 2001 through to 2004.

Sturman described himself as a workaholic, juggling his criminal practice with a flourishing specialism in civil sports law. According to Sturman, “every single penny” of the legal aid fees paid to barristers was justified, and he pointed out that it can take as long as five years to be paid for some cases.

The figures are notable for the number of barristers who appear and the variety of chambers, with only five silks appearing more than once over the three years for which information has been released.

Just one woman – Kalyani Kaul, a junior at 187 Fleet Street – is present among the 31 barristers on the lists. Her cases vary from serious fraud to murder and drug importation trials.

This year is also the first year that any juniors have been among the highest-paid briefs. Kaul is joined by Balbir Singh of Birmingham’s Equity Chambers, 2 Bedford Row’s Thomas Derbyshire and Charles Benson of 2 Paper Buildings.

Other notable members of the lists include the current Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald QC, who was paid £597,000 for work carried out at Matrix Chambers before he took up his current role. The present chair of the Criminal Bar Association, David Spens QC of 6 King’s Bench Walk, appears at number 10 on this year’s list, having received £639,000.

The sets receiving the most fees are spread out across the country, with Park Court Chambers in Leeds and 33 Park Place in Cardiff in the top five, together with 2 and 9 Bedford Row and Furnival Chambers in London.

John Gutteridge, senior clerk at Furnival, said: “I’m not personally surprised by these figures as they’ve all been allowed by government departments.”

The total amount paid in legal aid fees to the top 12 barristers has risen by around 10 per cent each year for the past three years, and is now pushing the £9m mark.

Top-earning sets
Set Amount paid 2002-05 (£m)
2 Bedford Row 3.7
Park Court Chambers, Leeds 3.4
Furnival Chambers 2.2
9 Bedford Row 2.0
33 Park Place, Cardiff 1.5
  Source: Department for Constitutional Affairs

Top-earning barristers
Barrister Amount paid 2002-05 (£m)
Jim Sturman QC 1.8
Oliver Blunt QC 1.5
Abbas Lakha QC 1.5
John Rees QC 1.5
Malcolm Swift QC 1.2
  Source: Department for Constitutional Affairs

Top earners 2004-05
Barrister Set Amount paid (£K)
Jim Sturman QC 2 Bedford Row 1,180
Simon Bourne-Arton QC Park Court Chambers, Leeds 902
Kalyani Kaul 187 Fleet Street 766
Gilbert Gray QC Park Court Chambers, Leeds 755
Balbir Singh Equity Chambers, Birmingham 750
Peter Griffiths QC 30 Park Place, Cardiff/2 Bedford Row 690
Trevor Burke QC Charter Chambers 683
Thomas Derbyshire 2 Bedford Row 668
George Carter-Stephenson QC 25 Bedford Row 653
David Spens QC 6 King’s Bench Walk 639
Vincent Coughlin QC Furnival Chambers 627
Charles Benson Paper Buildings 621
Total amount paid 8,934
  Source: Department for Constitutional Affairs

Top earners 2003-04
Barrister Set Amount paid (£K)
Richard Ferguson QC 2-4 Tudor Street 864
Oliver Blunt QC Furnival Chambers 839
John Rees QC 33 Park Place, Cardiff 803
Abbas Lakha QC 9 Bedford Row 668
Courtenay Griffiths QC 2 Garden Court 667
David Evans QC Hollis Whiteman Chambers 653
Nigel Lithman QC 2 Bedford Row 652
David Fish QC Deans Court Chambers, Manchester 624
Kenneth Macdonald QC Matrix Chambers
(now Director of Public Prosecutions)
Michael Harrison QC Park Court Chambers, Leeds 595
Anthony Arlidge QC 18 Red Lion Court 566
Malcolm Swift QC Park Court Chambers, Leeds 547
Total amount paid 8,075
  Source: Department for Constitutional Affairs

Top earners 2002-03
Barrister Set Amount paid (£K)
Abbas Lakha QC 9 Bedford Row 800
Oliver Blunt QC Furnival Chambers 703
John Rees QC 33 Park Place, Cardiff 664
Malcolm Swift QC Park Court Chambers, Leeds 637
Jim Sturman QC 2 Bedford Row 626
Christopher Sallon QC Doughty Street Chambers 603
Howard Godfrey QC 2 Bedford Row 596
Jonathan Hall QC Now a judge??? 563
Robin Grey QC Hollis Whiteman Chambers 558
Michel Massih QC Tooks Chambers 551
Richard Marks QC Peel Court Chambers,
Manchester/Charter Chambers
Andrew Bright QC 9 Bedford Row 537
Total amount paid 7,382
  Source: Department for Constitutional Affairs