The Coalition Government is planning to cut £2 billion from the Ministry of Justice budget.
Kinch, of 23 Essex Street, who succeeds Paul Mendelle QC, said: “The reform of criminal legal aid is going to dominate my term as chairman of the CBA.
“It is one thing when the government wants to cut your fees. My predecessors got used to dealing with that and fought valiantly against cuts. What seems to be coming now is reform of the whole way in which criminal legal aid is supplied.
“My first priority is to remind government of the vital role the criminal barristers with their focus on advocacy have in the criminal justice system. Any change that undermined that special role would be bad news for the public.
“The challenge is to help the criminal barrister identify what the proposals are likely to mean, when the government announces them. Then we have to look for ways to push the system in a direction that affords a viable future for the criminal Bar and one that retains the unique features of our profession. I will need a lot of help and support.”
Kinch said he has asked the Legal Services Commission (“LSC”) to look again at concerns a minority of solicitors may be exploiting the advocates graduated fee scheme, under which the LSC pays a single fee to the “instructed advocate” who is then expected to take control of the case. Some law firms are sending a solicitor-advocate to the initial hearing and then sub-contracting the case on to a barrister on the basis that they do it for 70 per cent of the fee.
“We have sporadic but growing evidence of this, and the Bar Council has an open letter from one firm in the Midlands to sets of chambers that this is going to be the situation and they can take it or leave it,” he said.
“It’s in breach of everything the regulations say about the importance of the instructing advocate having control of the trial and making decisions.
“It is very much a minority of solicitors, and the majority are conscientious. The LSC has previously taken the view that this is simply fee-sharing between consenting adults, but we are asking them to look at this again.”