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“Figures published last week revealed 10% of criminal barristers have quit in the past year”.

In a report on industrial action by barristers in a row with the government over legal aid funding, the BBC claimed that “10% of criminal barristers have quit in the past year”. 

This article appears to be referring to data released by the Bar Council, which regulates and represents barristers in England and Wales. But this same dataset tells us that the number of barristers undertaking some criminal work has “remained consistent” over the last four years. 

The Bar Council does say that the number of barristers who work full-time on publicly-funded criminal cases dropped by about 10% between 2019-20 and 2020-21, from 2,670 to 2,400. This may be where the BBC figure came from. 

But note the two caveats; working full-time and on publicly-funded cases—meaning receiving payments from the Legal Aid Agency or Crown Prosecution Service. 

These barristers haven’t necessarily all quit the profession. 

They may no longer work full-time on criminal law cases. As the Bar Council notes, they might work in “family, public law, personal injury, or professional discipline” among other fields.

It’s also possible that some may still be working on criminal cases, but not those which are publicly funded.

While the total number of criminal barristers has stayed steady, the share working only on criminal cases has dropped by about 4% (likely to be in the region of 238 barristers) over the last four years. 

Full Fact asked the Bar Council about the figure used in the BBC report, and a spokesperson confirmed it was used incorrectly, stating: “It is not 10% of all criminal barristers – and they haven’t quit.”

Following contact from Full Fact, the BBC corrected its article which now reads: “Figures published last week revealed 10% of criminal barristers involved in legally-aided work have withdrawn from those cases in the past year.”

The correction note states: “This article has been amended to make clear that the figures show 10% of criminal barristers involved in legally-aided work have withdrawn from those cases in the past year. An earlier version wrongly stated that 10% of criminal barristers had quit in the past year.”

Photo courtesy of Chris Beckett via Flickr.

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