Ministry of Justice crime fee proposals criticised
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Marc Bloomfield
The government has proposed increases in criminal legal aid fees as part of the criminal legal aid review (Criminal legal aid review: an accelerated package of measures amending the criminal legal aid fee schemes, Ministry of Justice (MoJ), 28 February 2020), but organisations representing defence lawyers have been quick to condemn the plans as inadequate.
According to the government, if the reforms it has floated are implemented, they would be worth ‘an additional £32m–£50m for legal aid’ (‘Up to £50 million on offer in first stage of criminal legal aid review’, MoJ press release, 28 February 2020). The proposals include new payments for litigators (solicitors who prepare cases for court) and advocates for reviewing unused pages of prosecution evidence, and an uplift in fees for cases that do not go ahead (cracked trials). The proposals are part of the ‘accelerated work’ the government had planned to tackle the crisis in the criminal defence sector. The reforms had originally been scheduled to be published at the end of last year, but Legal Action understands that they were delayed due to the general election.
Reacting to the proposals, Bill Waddington, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, told Legal Action that the sums put forward ‘are as insulting as they are derisory, particularly given that the government has managed to find £85m for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)’. The Law Society’s president, Simon Davis, was equally scathing about the proposed fees increases and also linked the issue to the recent uplift in fees for the CPS. He believes ‘many defence lawyers are taking jobs with the CPS’ due to the better pay and ‘that the very existence of criminal defence practitioners is under threat’ (‘Be prepared for justice to fall apart – solicitors issue stark warning to government’, Law Society press release, 28 February 2020). The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said that the proposed changes were ‘welcome but insufficient’ and is consulting its members on its response to the proposals (‘CBA AGFS, MOJ Consultation and Accelerated Asks Announcement – 28.02.20’, CBA news release). Last year, the criminal bar called a day of action over fee rates, but this was shelved after the government announced increases for both defence and prosecution work.
The lord chancellor, Robert Buckland QC, described the proposals outlined in the consultation document as a ‘fair settlement’ for the defence profession (Criminal legal aid review: an accelerated package of measures amending the criminal legal aid fee schemes, page 5). Responses to the consultation can be made via an online survey, The consultation closes on 27 March 2020.

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