By Jacqui Morley
Nobody in their right mind would advise a son or daughter to become a criminal barrister.
The words of Right Hon Mr Justice Henriques upon retirement from a distinguished legal career resonate this week – after barristers and solicitors staged an unprecedented walkout in protest at government plans to slash legal aid by up to 30 per cent.
The Criminal Bar Association says Monday’s walkout marked the first time barristers had withdrawn their labour and both wings of the legal profession had taken co-ordinated national action.
Local lawyers have been reluctant to speak out on the issue although some privately admit to dreading the consequences of further “reforms” to save £220m a year– by justice secretary Chris Grayling.
Sir Richard Henriques, who lives locally, warned too many “high calibre candidates are being lost to commercial law as advocates are no longer sufficiently remunerated – because of the cutbacks in legal aid. The contrast between earnings of criminal lawyers and commercial lawyers is spectacular and unwarranted.”
One local solicitor who does not wish to be identified agreed. “Too many have an overblown idea of our earnings. It’s not just getting very tough – it’s been tough for some considerable time.
“It’s led to losses, mergers, and will make it harder for people to get help.
“The old ‘fat cat’ claims are wholly unjustified today. Some aren’t even close to sufficient recompense.
“It’s far easier for good candidates to follow the money rather than their heart – and go to commercial law. Until that dries up too.”
Law student Luke Thompson, of Kirkham, agrees but concludes: “I still think the British legal system is up there with the best in the world.
“I know the pressures on pupillage, offering it, gaining it, and then trying to make a living, will be greater than ever before.
“But I won’t let it stop me if I make the grade.”