Since my last post regarding the proposed cuts in family legal aid and the press coverage of it, it appears that matters have moved on. The CEO of the LSC has acknowledged that the figure of £140,000 quoted in the press (and arising from LSC private press briefings) as representing average earnings of family legal aid barristers is inaccurate (no surprise there then). As a reminder the original article quoted Crispin Passmore, Director of the Community Legal Service, as saying, “The average annual earnings from family legal aid work is £140,000 – and that doesn’t include any privately paid work they might do. So we are not talking about the minimum wage”. The LSC assert that there has been ‘some misunderstanding in the interpretation of figures’ – what is notably NOT suggested is that the Times have attributed statements to Mr Passmore that he did not make. Assuming therefore that Mr Passmore did make the remarks, the twin questions arise – how and more importantly WHY were they made?
Further, in an article in The Times on 22nd May Frances GIbb, Legal Editor states that ‘there is confusion over figures quoted by the LSC at the media briefing. An annual gross earnings figure of £140,000 was cited: this, a spokesman has since clarified, was not a figure of average earnings but a gross figure up to which some barristers earn’ [my emphasis]. The choice of words used is significant. The original reference to £140,000 appeared in the The Times in direct quotation marks – it’s hard to believe that the Times journalist who wrote the piece was sloppy enough to get such specific and significant information incorrect if that is not what they were told.
I am left confused and rather cynical about this. Confused both by how this ‘misunderstanding’ arose – whose error was it and where did the figure come from? And by what the correct figure might actually be – we know its not £140,000, and anyone with half a brain knows its considerably less than £140,000 but what is the average family legal aid income? And finally, I am confused by the fact that the LSC now appear to be saying through their spokesperson that family barristers earn ‘up to’ £140,000 gross i.e. not more than that amount. This too is patently incorrect as some senior counsel involved in long and complex cases earn more than this, and have been publicly reported to have done so, for example when the top ten legal aid earners figures are published each year. Is this another misunderstanding of the information provided by the LSC to The Times or has the spokesperson herself misstated the position yet again?