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Legal aid cuts: Statistics group claim government salary figures 'misleading'

A leading statistics group has branded government claims that taxpayer-funded lawyers earn £84,000 as 'misleading', as the Government continues to try to justify stinging cuts to legal aid services, reports the BBC.

The UK statistics Authority wrote to the Ministry of Justice to claim that they had ignored the lower estimates of legal aid barristers' salaries in order to justify the latest round of cuts to the legal aid budget.

The Government is pressing ahead with plans to trim £220m from the £1.7bn legal aid budget, just a year after it made £350m of savings.

The last set of cuts was aimed at civil law, with legal aid removed from a wide range of day-to-day cases including most divorce matters, welfare law, housing disputes and employment issues.

Now the Government is targeting the criminal legal system, with proposals to greatly reduce the amount that is paid to legal aid lawyers for complex cases.

The Government has used salary estimates, provided by the UK Statistical Authority, to claim that legal aid barristers take home £84,000 per year in salary and should therefore not complain about budget cuts.

However, Sir Andrew Dilnot of the UK Statistical Authority said that the Government has taken the upper estimate for top-earners as the standard rate, misleading the public.

The Criminal Bar Association, the organisation representing many criminal barristers paid from the legal aid budget, claims that the average salary for a criminal barrister is actually £37,000.

One crucial area where barristers lose out is in expenses. As they are self-employed they often pay VAT and costs out of their income figure.

"Our cries went unheard, until now," said Nigel Lithman of the Criminal Bar Association.

"This is an outrage and frankly the public and the profession have a right to expect more from a Ministry of Justice," he added.

A government spokesman said that despite the complaint they believe the figures used were accurate.