Anger at the Bar as cuts begin

Criminal defence barristers face a fees reduction of 13.5 per cent over three years after the government rushed ahead with controversial cuts to legal aid.

On 6 April the government laid a statutory instrument before Parliament that imposes cuts of 4.5 per cent to all Advocates Graduated Fees Scheme (“AGFS”) payments from 27 April, and further cuts of 4.5 per cent each for the next two consecutive years. 

Cases lasting for periods up to and including 60 days will be funded under the AGFS scheme with effect from 14 July. Refreshers after 40 days will be paid at half the full rate. Very High Cost Cases funding will still apply if the case extends beyond 60 days.

Paul Mendelle QC, Chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said: “The mood at the criminal Bar is one of anger, bitterness and frustration.
“The 13.5 per cent cut to AGFS will all but wipe out the modest Carter rises of 2007 which themselves did little more than restore the value of fees that had been unchanged for a decade, ten years in which their true value had been eroded by both inflation and the burden of the extra unpaid work imposed on us. The extension of AGFS to 60 days while refreshers after 40 days remain at half the full rate is just plain irrational and will unfairly penalise those who undertake longer cases.”

Paul Mendelle QC and Bar Chairman, Nick Green QC, hit out in a joint letter to barristers at the speed with which the changes were introduced—six days after the 1 April closing date of the consultation on “Reforming Advocates Graduated Fees”—and questioned whether the consultation was “genuine”.

“It might not surprise you that we were not offered the minimal courtesy of a simple letter beforehand to notify us of these changes,” they wrote, “and you might consider that the time which elapsed between the close of the consultation and the decision to lay the SI indicates a scant regard for the content of the submissions which were made to the government.”

The Bar Council has now instructed leading counsel to advise on the case for a judicial review—although this is unlikely to go ahead until after the General Election.

The MoJ said the phased introduction of the fee reforms—rather than implementing a one-off cut of 17.9 per cent, which was another proposed option—would reduce the impact on more junior advocates and give advocates more time to adjust to the changes.