Barristers fees are a completely different issue to those of solicitors. They will often have lower overheads than a solicitor and are therefore able to charge a lower hourly rate. However, a solicitor can use a barrister as an outside agent and quite legitimately charge the client at the solicitors' hourly rate rather than the amount the barrister charges. It is more common for a solicitor to charge the barrister as a disbursement with the client paying exactly what the barrister charges.
A barrister can always be paid on an hourly rate. However, it is much more common for barristers to be paid on an agreed fee basis. This means that the risk of the case over-running is carried by the barrister, but they get paid more per hour if it goes short.
Prior to any hearing a "brief fee" is supposed to be agreed with the barrister and it should be written on the outside of the brief. This confirms the amount they are to be paid and normally the Court will not allow an amount greater than this. The client is always supposed to be asked for permission to use a barrister and, where possible, to agree the fee in advance.
Barristers are the product of a true market economy and are entitled to charge as much as they believe the market will bear. However, in general terms barristers charge more the more senior they are. This is referred to as "call", based on the number of years since their original call to the Bar.
Guidelines have been issued to assist the Court with assessing the amount that should be allowed for the level of barrister used and the type of hearing that has occurred. However, those guidelines are not updated as often for barristers as they are for solicitors. The tables give figures based on hearings in the Queens Bench and Chancery Division of the High Court. Lower fees would normally be appropriate in provincial Courts and the County Court. They therefore have much less weight than the Solicitors' rates, but can provide a useful starting point.
The tables provide rates for hearings between 1 hour and a 1/2 a day and for barristers of all levels up to, but not including, QC.
The reality is at Court barristers rarely challenge each other's fees with much enthusiasm, unless they find out their opponent is being paid considerably more than they are. This is reflected in the fact the tables have not been updated since 2007 because outside of the High Court they are never referred to.
Tables of Counsel Fees - 2007
From January 2007, the tables of Counsel's Fees are as follows:
Queen's Bench 1 hour hearing 1/2 day hearing
Junior up to 5 years call £259 £450
Junior 5 to 10 years call £386 £767
Junior 10+ years call £582 £1,164
Chancery Division 1 hour hearing 1/2 day hearing
Junior up to 5 years call £291 £556
Junior 5 to 10 years call £497 £931
Junior 10+ years call £757 £1,397
Administrative Court 1 hour hearing 1/2 day hearing
Junior up to 5 years call £381 £582
Junior 5 to 10 years call £698 £1,164
Junior 10+ years call £989 £1,746