How much does a barrister earn and why are criminal barristers striking?

Barristers in England and Wales have voted to go on an indefinite strike from September

Striking barristers in their wigs and gowns holding placards reading 'strike together win together'
(Image credit: Getty Images)

After barristers voted to strike indefinitely from September, many are asking how much does a barrister earn?

Summer 2022 has seen huge numbers of workers striking as unions demand more pay amid the cost of living crisis. We've had train strikes, nurses strikes and Royal Mail strikes announced, and now the Criminal Bar Association has voted for barristers to walk out too.

Much like the train strikes left people wondering how much do train drivers earn, the industrial action from criminal barristers has prompted many to ask how much does a barrister earn? Here's everything you need to know about their pay, why they're striking and more...

How much does a barrister earn?

According to an independent review, the median salary for a barrister in 2019-20 was £79,800. However, the difference in barristers' earnings can vary dramatically, depending on their area of practice and the clients they attract.

According to The Lawyer, while the majority of barristers earn in excess of £60,000, nearly 12% earn less than £30,000 and only the top 2% earn over £1m per year. The top level of barrister is a Queen's Counsel (or QC), and these command the highest pay.

How much does a junior barrister earn?

Job search engine Jobted puts the average salary for a junior barrister in the UK at £42,000.

However, while a junior barrister at a commercial chamber may earn over £70,000, their counterparts in criminal or family law may make less than £20,000. In some cases, juniors have been leaving the profession because they can't make enough money to live on.

Why are barristers striking?

Barristers represented by the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) are striking in a dispute with the government over legal aid funding, pay and conditions. Legal aid is funding granted to help cover legal costs for defendants who could not otherwise afford lawyers.

The Government is due to increase criminal barrister wages by 15% from the end of September, but the pay rise will only apply to new criminal cases and not those already backlogged, of which there are more than 58,000 cases. The CBA has rejected this offer, and are asking for a 25% pay rise for legal aid work.

Jo Sidhu QC, chair of the CBA, has said: "Last year, we lost another 300 criminal barristers, why? Because they could not do this job anymore on what they were being paid, and for the hours that they were toiling.

"These shortages in manpower are causing increasing misery to victims and those accused who are desperately waiting, sometimes for years, to get justice and to see their cases finally resolved in court."

Dame Vera Baird, the Victims' Commissioner for England and Wales, said more victims could drop out of cases due to backlogs.

She told the BBC "The under-funding of the courts, which has been systemic since long before the pandemic, is already leading to a lot of people thinking that their lives can't remain on hold any longer and they are dropping out." 

When are barristers striking?

Since the end of June, barristers have been striking on alternate weeks. However, the new strike will see member of the CBA walk out for an indefinite, uninterrupted strike beginning 5 September.

Out of 2,273 votes cast, more than 79% voted to escalate the strike, while 258 were in favour of continuing the current action, and 207 in favour of stopping all action.

Justice Minister Sarah Dines said the decision by barristers was 'irresponsible', adding "The escalation of strike action is wholly unjustified considering we are increasing criminal barristers' fees by 15%, which will see the typical barrister earn around £7,000 more a year."

What does a barrister do?

A barrister is a type of lawyer that represents a case. They plead the case on behalf of the client, which often means appearing in court, and can give legal advice.

The work barristers do depends on their area of practice. There are 24 difference areas of law, from family law and property law to environmental law and shipping law.

Lawyers, barristers and solicitors: What's the difference?

The term 'lawyer' is used to refer to any legal professional, while the main distinction between barristers and solicitors is that solicitors don't represent their clients in court.

Solicitors take instructions from clients and advise on courses of legal action, as well as dealing with the paperwork involved in the case. If a case goes to court a solicitor will then refer the work to a barrister, who appears in court to represent the client.

What qualifications do you need to become a barrister?

Barristers need to have an undergraduate degree in law or they can complete a law conversion course if they achieved a degree in a different subject.

They will then need to complete the Bar Practice Course, which is the vocational component of the training, followed by a pupillage. The pupillage is normally taken in chambers and takes a year to complete. The first six months are non-practising and the second six are practicing months.

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Ellie Hutchings
Family News Editor

Ellie is GoodtoKnow’s Family News Editor and covers all the latest trends in the parenting world - from relationship advice and baby names to wellbeing and self-care ideas for busy mums. Ellie is also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and has a distinction in MA Magazine Journalism from Nottingham Trent University and a first-class degree in Journalism from Cardiff University. Previously, Ellie has worked with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue, and the Nottingham Post, as well as freelancing as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. When she’s not got her nose in a book, you’ll probably find Ellie jogging around her local park, indulging in an insta-worthy restaurant, or watching Netflix’s newest true crime documentary.