The Ministry of Justice announced proposals to introduce ‘simpler and fairer’ legal aid rates for defence advocates.
The advocates’ graduated fee scheme, which in 2014/15 cost around £213m, has not been changed since 2007.
Under the proposals, which are intended to be cost neutral, the Ministry said fees will be calculated using a detailed categorisation system based on the seriousness and complexity of the work done, rather than ‘out-dated’ factors, such as the number of pages in a case.
The reforms will restore separate payments for plea and trial preparation hearings, sentences and mentions, and payments for the second day of every trial, and provide a £300 fee for ineffective trials.
The Ministry said the measures aim to increase certainty and transparency for advocates, ensure fair payment for work done, and reduce bureaucracy in the system to cut the burden on the taxpayerand advocates.
Justice Minister, Sir Oliver Heald QC said: ‘As we take steps to update and modernise our criminal justice system, it is vital that the way we pay criminal defence advocates fairly reflects this new reality.
‘Our current payment system does not focus enough on the skilled work that barristers and solicitor advocates demonstrate every day in the Crown court. I want to change that to ensure the system is simpler and fairer,’ he said.
Welcoming the ‘rational’ proposals, Andrew Langdon QC, Bar Chairman, said they focus on ‘actual in-court advocacy, rather than counting paper’ and ‘go a considerableway towards restoring career progression at the criminal Bar’.
Duncan McCombe, chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee, said: ‘There are a few modest drops in the base amounts for payments for some cases.
‘But the clear advantage is that young barristers will be paid for their time in court, rather than being paid on an arbitrary basis, and will be paid for each appearancerather than feeling like every other case is a loss leader.’
But the Law Society, which withdrew from the working party on the scheme in December, said the changes mean senior barristers will enjoy a pay hike at the expense of more junior Bar colleagues and solicitor advocates.
The consultation, Reforming the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme, closes on 2 March 2017.