A barrister was paid nearly £1 million from the public purse for legal aid work last year, official figures have revealed.
Howard Godfrey QC came top of the list of highly paid criminal defence barristers in England and Wales, earning £928,000 in 2008/9.
In total, the top ten criminal barristers earned £6,772,000 in legal aid payments last year. Nearly 1000 criminal barristers earned more than £100,000.
The figures were published as Justice Secretary Jack Straw announced plans to change the way legal aid is tendered.
Mr Straw said he had a duty to ensure the legal aid budget was used "effectively and efficiently".
"The large majority of legal aid lawyers work long hours and provide a valuable and vital public service," he said.
"It is entirely proper that these people are paid decent rates.
"However there are a handful at the top of the profession, and sometimes in the middle ranks, where the picture is very different and there is an expectation they should receive rewards comparable to those in the private sector."
Mr Godfrey, who is deputy head of 2 Bedford Row chambers, was third in the list for the previous year, 2007/8, when his earnings were £988,000.
He was called to the bar in 1970 and made QC in 1991. Among his interests listed in Who's Who are food, wine and travel.