We have prepared our response to the latest Government consultation on legal aid funding entitled Amending the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme. This time the Ministry of Justice wishes assistance on how to spend what is described as £15m of ‘new’ money on fee payments for those undertaking Crown Court advocacy.
It is optimistically hoped that the proposed fee scheme will attract suitable candidates to both the Bar and solicitors’ profession.
Unfortunately it seems unlikely that these proposals address these aspirations once the fee structure is looked at in detail.
For example, this view expressed within the consultation document is in conflict with the aim of properly funding those entering the profession.
Surely this paragraph ought to be acknowledging the damage to the junior end of the profession by choosing this as a priority? Instead it trumpets redistribution of existing funds to the cases that more senior counsel undertake?
We wonder if anyone involved in the initial negotiation, particularly the Young Barristers Committee, is regretting expressing this opinion by now?
The consultation document seems to express a genuine interest in the views of the profession. As a result there may be every reason to engage with the consultation. It is hoped that organisations such as the Law Society, CLSA and SAHCA will be making strong arguments on behalf of the solicitors’ profession as a whole and preparing responses detailing the realities of the fee cuts.
Having said that, we also approach the consultation with a certain amount of cynicism. The last two substantial consultations have resulted in Judicial Review proceedings when the government ignored the opinions proffered.
The Ministry has pledged a review of the current scheme. It is hope that this isn’t the same level of commitment that the government has shown in relation to its review of LASPO. We still wait for that to be concluded while people continue to be excluded from the legal aid scheme.
We have a number of concerns about the fee scheme in its entirety. If fails to reward those at the beginning of their careers and then penalises specialist advocates later in their career who deal with complex cases with a high page count.
It represents a significant cut in fees for many types of case and will not assist with in preserving the future of criminal advocacy.