Fee deal resolves VHCC impasse

A scheme for fixed fee “exceptional case contracts” has been agreed between Bar leaders and the Ministry of Justice, enabling six of the seven outstanding very high cost case (VHCC) trials to proceed.

The one-off special arrangement was confirmed in a joint statement issued by the  Bar Council, Criminal Bar Association (CBA),  Circuit Leaders and the Ministry of Justice on 7 July: “Arrangements have been put in place, under which self-employed barristers have been instructed to represent defendants in a number of VHCCs.

“Given that normal working relationships have been restored, the Government has confirmed that there is no need to expand the PDS further,” the statement confirmed. Discussions are to be resumed “as soon as possible” on alternatives to the VHCC and Advocates Graduated Fee Schemes, and the long-term future of criminal advocacy.

CBA Chairman, Nigel Lithman QC, said that the barristers concerned had “signalled their content with the outcome negotiated on their behalf and consider these fees to be appropriate and acceptable”. This was always “a commercial decision by those offered these cases” and is “not an issue on which the wider membership of the Criminal Bar can impose their views,” he said.

“But for the rest of the independent Criminal Bar,” Lithman added, “this agreement acknowledges that it remains vitally important that those most experienced and best placed to do this work continue to do so”, removing the need for PDS expansion, shoring up choice of representation and restoring confidence in the UK justice system.

The contracts comprise a brief fee and refreshers, avoiding the administrative requirements of the existing VHCC scheme.