Bar Council launches court action over consultations

The Ministry of Justice is refusing Bar Council requests to extend the deadline for “inadequate and unfair” consultations on Very High Cost Cases (“VHCCs”) and advocates’ graduated fees despite threats of judicial review.

Solicitors acting for the Bar Council have now written, in accordance with the Pre-Action Protocol for Judicial Review Claims, to the Legal Aid Minister, Lord Bach, and to the Chairman of the Legal Services Commission (“LSC”), Sir Bill Callaghan, in order to advance proceedings for judicial review.

The Bar Council and Criminal Bar Association say they have not been given enough information to respond to the LSC consultation on VHCCs. They asked the government to combine the deadlines for responses to these two consultations and to join them to the timetable for the response to the proposed consultation on a single graduated fee for Crown Court cases.

Nick Green QC, Chairman of the Bar, said: “The Bar Council asked the Ministry of Justice and the LSC to adopt a co-ordinated and fair approach to their decision-making on the very important matters which are the subject of these consultations.
“The government has rejected our request to co-ordinate the consultation timetables and refused to supply us with the information for which we asked to enable the Bar to respond to the two current consultations. These are inextricably linked to an, as yet, unpublished third consultation.  “The principal basis of our claim will be that the consultation exercise is unfair and, in our view, unlawful.”

A joint statement from the MoJ and LSC said: “[We] received a letter from the Bar Council and Criminal Bar Association on 21 January requesting the deadlines for our current consultations on advocates graduated fees and VHCCs be extended.

“We consider that the current deadlines give adequate time for stakeholders to respond properly and fully to both consultations. We hope the Bar Council and Criminal Bar Association will reconsider their position.  “The proposals to pilot a single graduated fee will be consulted on in due course.”