Proposals for radical overhaul of bar practising fee sparks fury

Top earning civil barristers are threatening revolt over plans to charge them a practising certificate fee (PCF) based on annual income.

The proposals have been fielded by the Bar Council as part of plans to aid sustainable funding of the public bar.

Under the plans barristers would need to declare their income to enable them to be charged accordingly. Currently barristers are charged according to their seniority, meaning that those who have practised longest are charged most.

Plans to change how the fee is structured has caused upset across the bar with many complaining that, in effect, the bodies are proposing a secondary level of income tax.

One barrister said: “I believe this to be unprecedented. More to the point, I am also concerned as to where this might lead, once the principle of an income-based PCF is introduced.

“Once the BSB, the Bar Council and the LSB [Legal Services Board] have established that they are able to tax incomes in order to fund their regulatory and other activities, there will be very little incentive on them to make much effort to control costs – as compared, for example, to increasing the rates.

“Given the recent seemingly uncontrolled growth of our regulatory structure, this is not an attractive prospect.”

Another added: “Funding cuts across the public bar have brought the profession to its knees in some parts, and the commercial bar does its bit to help. This is just another attempt by the Government for uncontrolled regulator growth, and barristers will end up paying for the whole thing.”

Some suggested, however, that the change is necessary for sustainable development of the bar.

“It’s a really tough time for the bar and I feel sorry that some don’t support the common cause,” one source said. “A lot of criminal barristers are really struggling and this is one way that the Bar Council can help.

“Should somebody earning £40,000 before expenses pay the same as somebody earning £500,000?”

Barristers were contacted about the plans at the end of June and a four-week consultation will close on 31 July. That too has drawn criticism as some suggest that the timing of the survey comes at one of the busiest periods for the bar as advocates prepare for the summer break.

The current PCF starts at £80 for juniors of under five years’ call, rising to £222 for those between five and seven years. Juniors of between eight and 12 years’ call are charged £417 a year, and senior juniors of over 13 years’ call £813. The fee for QCs is £1,202 a year. The PCF for employed barristers is a little lower.

The Bar Council refused to discuss details of the proposals ahead of the consultation closing. A spokesman said there was “mixed views on both sides” and that it was working hard to fund a balance.