Barrister Marcus Elliott makes some timely suggestions to the Ministry of Justice
It is a melancholy sight to see the streets crowded with persons wearing wigs and gowns, bearing placards with words such as, ‘Don’t Kill off the Criminal Bar.’
It is agreed by all parties that crime is a bad thing. It is also agreed that criminal barristers are as odious as crime itself but with the additional insult that society funds them. And the only consumers of their services are criminals.
Ministry of Justice data reveals that 1,275 barristers received in excess of £100,000 in 2012/13. Six received more than £500,000.
These obscene sums sufficiently illustrate our key concerns. One: barristers are greedy and also fat. Two: they get wealthy and fat because of criminals. Three: taxpayers’ money makes them wealthy and fat.
The Secretary of State for Justice proposes to reduce legal aid by £220m. That is patently insufficient. However, I will take it as my benchmark.
Reducing the legal spend by this amount is easy. The 1,281 barristers who were so adept at exploiting the system as to extract more than £100,000 should be put down. As to what is done with their bodily remains, see below. This would result in savings of around £196m.
Civil legal aid is an indulgence, like ice cream at the cinema. Its eradication would save £18m.
The Ministry’s data also shows that ‘high cost cases’ burdened the taxpayer by £29m. There should be no high cost cases. Such cases would sort themselves out if left to their own devices. This brings the total savings to £243m.
You will see that I have reduced expenditure by even more than the Justice Secretary proposes. Further, my process has been transparent and pragmatic.
But there is more to my proposal. It has been suggested (by barristers) that those who earn less than £100,000 would struggle to survive. For this reason, the remains of the 1,281 barristers who are to be put down should be used to feed their colleagues who continue in practice.
It cannot be denied that this would reduce their cost of living considerably. Allowing for an average body weight of say 150lb, it would produce 100lb of edible yield per dead barrister, including gristle. This is a conservative estimate since most of these barristers are fat.
Any barrister who survives my proposed cuts would be entitled to no more than £100,000 of legal aid per annum – on pain of dispatch and disbursement as additional nourishment to their learned friends.
I acknowledge that while my proposal addresses the issue of greed, it does not address quality. Here there is also a simple solution. Any defence barrister who loses a case must serve the same penalty as their guilty client. Any prosecution barrister who fails to secure a conviction must serve the same penalty as that which the defendant would have served had a conviction been obtained.
This stake in the outcome would ensure that barristers who are of lower quality or consistently fail to force their client to plead guilty would quickly fall away, leaving only the best intact. It would also deter incompetents entering the profession.
I confess to having toyed with the idea of stipulating that those barristers who lose cases should also be put down. This has the additional attraction that it would add to the stock of food for living barristers. I leave this option open for the Justice Secretary to consider. The Ministry has publicly stated that barristers should get what is fair and I rely upon his good judgment to determine which of these options best serves his purpose.
My proposal is both mathematically and morally sustainable. I call upon the Ministry of Justice to implement it forthwith, following which I expect its success to be swift.
Marcus Elliott is a barrister practising in the safety of New Zealand. He blogs at www.defectiveinvective.com