Two-thirds of criminal barristers work for nothing one day a week

A new report from the Bar Council has revealed the scope of the problems facing criminal barristers.

The research report Barristers’ Working Lives 2017 garnered responses from 4,092 barristers. If found that nearly two thirds (62 per cent) of criminal barristers work at least 11 hours per week for which they are not paid, and one third work more than 20 hours a week for free.

For family barristers, 50 per cent work more that 11 hours a week for nothing, while for Chancery and commercial barristers it is 28 per cent.

Among the criminal barristers, 70 per cent said that the reason they work additional unpaid hours is that the solicitor does less than previously, while 60 per cent cited the unpredictability of cases and workload.

“We do the extra unpaid hours of work because the system would fail if we did not and judges and solicitors do not recognise the severe impact it has,” said one respondent.

“I would like to be paid properly for the work I do, so that I did not have to undertake the amount of work that I do to achieve a reasonably good income. On average I work 6.5 days a week, usually for 12 hours or more. That is no life,” said another.

Family barristers felt least able to balance their work and home life, with 58 per cent saying this was an issue, compared to 48 per cent of criminal barristers, 25 per cent of civil barristers and 24 per cent of those working in Chancery and commercial. Furthermore, 62 per cent of family barristers feel emotionally drained by their work, compared to 50 per cent of criminal ones.

While the proportion of barristers as a whole who would recommend the Bar as a career has risen from 40 per cent in 2013 to 48 per cent in 2017, among criminal barristers that figure has fallen from 56 per cent to 35 per cent.

Chair of the Bar Council Andrew Walker QC said: “While there are some clear positives in our report, there is a notable difference between those practising in crime (and, to a degree, in family work) and the rest of the Bar. It should also be recognised that the survey was conducted in the summer of 2017, since when legal aid fees have been eroded further by inflation.

“The fact that many saw their workload, stress and work-life balance deteriorate yet further between 2013 and 2017 is a worrying trend. It shows that we must all maintain our efforts across the Bar to support those who are finding practice ever more difficult to sustain, both financially and in terms of maintaining and enjoying a healthy and fulfilling life both at work and at home.

“It shows, too, how important it is for the leadership of the Bar to be making our case to the Government, in Parliament and to the public about the long-term consequences of failing to recognise and pay properly for the delivery of justice in England and Wales.”