Criminal bar considering returns boycott over fees
Marc Bloomfield
Heads of chambers are due to meet on 6 November 2018 to discuss the advocates’ graduated fee scheme (AGFS). The AGFS is the legal aid payment made to barristers and solicitor advocates for representation in criminal trials.
In May, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) called off its planned boycott of returns (cases taken at short notice) after the government pledged a further £15m to fund a revised version of the scheme (see June 2018 Legal Action 4). In recent weeks, the deal has begun to unravel as it appears that the government calculations were flawed and only an extra £8.6m has been allocated to the scheme.
Chair of the CBA, Chris Henley QC, writing in the CBA’s ‘Monday message’ on 22 October, gave examples of the low pay rates on offer, including a complex trial in which a brief fee of £650 was offered (a brief fee is expected to cover all the preparation and the first day of the trial). Under the previous scheme, he said, the fee would have been £4,500. The barrister who was offered the case turned it down, and Henley said he had sent the case to the Ministry of Justice ‘for comment’.
The CBA is threatening to reinstate the no returns policy unless the government comes up with more cash. Four years ago, a boycott of returns by criminal barristers led to a government climbdown on plans for a criminal legal aid fee cut.

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