Criminal bar strikes deal with government
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Marc Bloomfield
An agreement has been struck between barristers’ representatives and the government over the level of fees for both prosecution and defence work in criminal cases. The criminal bar had voted overwhelmingly for a day of action in two weeks’ time (Monday 1 July) that would have brought the courts to a standstill (see June 2019 Legal Action 4). It looks as though this may now be averted as the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) and the Bar Council are urging barristers to accept the deal in a ballot that is being organised by the CBA.
Details of the government’s offer have been outlined in a message from the CBA’s chair, Chris Henley QC, and vice-chair, Caroline Goodwin QC, which was posted on the association’s website last Wednesday (12 June). The proposed increases in fees include the fixed fees for prosecution work rising to the same level as advocates’ graduated fee scheme (AFGS). The AFGS sets the amounts paid by the legal aid system for defence work.
The government had announced a review of AFGS to be finalised next year, as part of its Legal Support Action Plan (Legal support: the way ahead, CP 40, Ministry of Justice, February 2019, page 38). However, as part of the latest agreement with the bar, it has agreed to accelerate work on three aspects of this: payments in high-volume evidence cases; cracks (trials that don’t proceed at the last minute as the defendant changes their plea); and reviewing material that is eventually not used in the trial.
The Law Society, which represents solicitors, has been critical of the failure of the government and the bar to involve solicitors in their discussions. In response to the announcement of the deal, Christina Blacklaws, Law Society president, said: ‘Good firms are collapsing. Young lawyers are rejecting this area of law. In parts of the country, the criminal defence solicitor is going extinct, and the possibility of a fair trial is critically endangered … The government needs to listen to more than just the loudest voices if it is serious about addressing this impending catastrophe’ (‘Criminal bar strikes deal on higher fees’, Law Society Gazette, 12 June 2019).
A new report on the criminal justice system was published by The Law Society on 14 June (Justice on trial 2019: fixing our criminal justice system). It shows a system on the verge of collapse due to underfunding and calls on the government to take urgent action to save it.

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