Details of an agreement between the Bar, Law Society and the government on legal aid fees have been announced.
The government has agreed to suspend the planned 6% fee cut for advocacy fees in Crown Court cases which was due to be introduced later this year. They have also announced a review of the fee cut in Very High Cost Cases (VHCCs) which was introduced at the beginning of the month. Nigel Lithman, chair of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), has agreed to call-off their boycott of VHCCs and returns, cases in which a barrister is substituted at short notice.
LAG believes that the government has caved into the Bar as their boycott action was impacting on the courts. It leaves solicitors in a difficult position as the cuts in their fees are still going ahead along with the planned tenders for police station work, which it is predicted will lead to the closure of many criminal legal aid firms. The government will though introduce the planned interim payments for solicitors firms a year early, at a cost of £9m.
Nigel Lithman claims that the deal gives barristers 89% of what they wanted. Their main concession was to accept the 30% fee cut for VHCCs. However, it remains to be seen in the months to come if the government will make further concessions on this after the promised review.
Until today there had been strong solidarity between both criminal barristers and solicitors. Thousands had joined the day of action on 7th March, which shut many criminal courts. Further action is planned for later this month, but solicitors were perplexed that the CBA was not joining in the planning for this. They now know the reason why.
Today's agreement really was a deal for the Bar. Lithman played his hand well, like a posh Bob Crow, he was fully aware of the power of the boycott of VHCCs and returns. This is what forced the government's hand, but it might well have come at the cost of any future co-operation with solicitors. They will increasingly look to take on the advocacy work in the Crown and higher courts, traditionally undertaken by barristers. In future years barristers might look back at today's events as a battle won in a war that they lost.
Pic: Actress Maxine Peake joined lawyers on the day of action earlier this month.