Categorized | Criminal Justice, Law Updates

Disraeli was right

Disraeli was right

MoJ staff have had their knuckles rapped by the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA ) for overestimating barristers’ earnings in figures aimed at justifying legal aid cuts. UKSA is an independent body charged with monitoring the integrity of official statistics.

In a letter to Shailesh Vara, Minister for the Courts and Legal Aid, the Chair of the UKSA, Sir Andrew Dilnot, accuses the department of overestimating barristers’ average earnings at £84,000 a year.

Sir Andrew wrote: “The Statistics Authority has received a number of representations about the nature, quality, timing and use of a Ministry of Justice ad hoc statistical release entitled ‘Barrister fee income from public sources 2012/13’, published on 2 January 2014.

“Concerns have also been raised with us about statements made, following the publication of the statistics, to the effect that average earnings for a criminal barrister who works fulltime and is paid from public funds are £84,000 per annum. We understand that this figure represents the mean fee income from public funds for fulltime barristers where any barrister with a fee income of less than £10,000 is excluded.

“This figure includes VAT, which barristers must pay to HM Revenue and Customs, and expenses such as travel costs. Use of the mean, rather than the median, results in a higher estimate as the calculation is influenced by a small number of larger payments.”

UKSA said it had reviewed the MoJ’s statistical release against the code of practice for official statistics and identified areas of concern. “The statistical report focuses on the fee income of barristers but does not clearly define this term. The commentary talks in places about the earnings of barristers. This is potentially misleading as the notes to the data make it clear that the statistics do not represent the earnings of individuals.” The notes explaining the figures were not presented alongside the data table.

“Information about items included or excluded from the estimates of fee income – for example, VAT and disbursements – is also presented in the notes but the report makes no attempt to quantify the impact of the treatment of these items” The report also presents mean and median measures, but does not advise users about the appropriate use of these different measures.

The MoJ are unrepentant. A spokesperson said: “We stand by the figures we used. Whether the mean or median figure gives the best representation of typical fee income is open to statistical interpretation. We also published the full range of fee incomes received by barristers in 2012-13, including both the mean and median fee income figures and underlying source data, to be as transparent as possible.”

Disraeli was reputed to have said that there are “Lies, Damn lies and Statistics.” This looks like another example.

This post was written by:

- who has written 8 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.


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