Profession decries latest criminal advocacy fees announcement
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Marc Bloomfield
Criminal legal aid solicitors have condemned the government’s announcement of a new system of payments for advocates in Crown Court cases (Reforming the advocates’ graduated fee scheme: government response, Ministry of Justice (MoJ), 23 February 2018). The MoJ says it wants to change the advocates’ graduated fee (AGF) scheme by replacing payments based on the number of pages of evidence to payments based on the seriousness and complexity of a case.
The president of the Law Society, Joe Egan, pointed out that the litigators’ fees paid to solicitor firms to prepare Crown Court cases were cut at the end of last year. In a statement released by the Law Society, he said: ‘It is not rational for the MoJ to argue that they have to cut one part of the system because of their own financial pressures, but then find additional money to pay advocates for working on the very same cases’ (‘Robbing Peter to pay Paul will penalise entire criminal justice system’, Law Society press release, 23 February 2018). The cuts to litigators’ fees for criminal legal aid solicitors are subject to an ongoing judicial review challenge brought by the Law Society (see December 2017/January 2018 Legal Action 5).
Bill Waddington, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA), told Legal Action that the new AGF scheme would make little difference to the income of barristers and solicitor advocates, adding: ‘It’s not, as the Law Society have said, “robbing Peter to pay Paul”; it’s robbing both sides of the profession.’ He said the CLSA believes the bar and solicitors need to ‘work together and challenge the cuts contained within the proposed scheme, and stop rearranging deck chairs as passengers and crew abandon ship’.
The Criminal Bar Association (CBA), meanwhile, is still seeking comment on the changes, though they appear thus far to have been wholly negative. In the CBA Monday Message of 26 February 2018, chair Angela Rafferty QC said: ‘We have not received any positive feedback about this scheme to date. Could those who think it benefits them please let us know, even if anonymously. Our concerns are that the membership considers this scheme a retrograde step and a cut.’
In a statement released on the same day as the announcement, the MoJ said: ‘These changes will create a simpler and more modern pay system for defence advocates in legal aid-funded criminal cases’ (‘Fairer pay for criminal defence advocates in legal aid cases’, MoJ press release, 23 February 2018). It plans to introduce the new scheme from 1 April 2018. The details of the AGF scheme are available in the policy paper, Banding of offences in the advocates’ graduated fee scheme (AGFS) (version 1.1, MoJ, 23 February 2018).

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