The Bar Council condemned the ‘remorseless succession’ of legal aid funding cuts, but said changes to advocates’ fees were a ‘step in the right direction’.

Responding to the Ministry of Justice’s announcement over the reformed advocates’ graduated fee scheme (AGFS) the Bar Chair, Andrew Walker QC, said that the ‘remorseless succession’ of cuts have caused ‘real and pressing concerns’ about the viability and sustainability of many at the criminal Bar, and about whether the Bar will be able to continue to recruit and retain the practitioners needed in the future.

But he said the changes, which increase the payments made to some advocates, represent ‘an important step in the right direction for the long-term future of the criminal Bar’.

Walker said it was reassuring to see a number of the shortcomings in the original proposals, had been addressed in the final scheme, ‘even if the gains at an individual level are modest’. 

The changes to the AGFS, made in conjunction with earlier amendments to the litigators’ graduated fee scheme, which cut the fees paid to solicitors, are intended to be cost-neutral.

The Law Society said the move amounted to ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’. It warned that ‘depriving one beleaguered portion of the criminal justice system to fund another could inflict further instability on the under-pressure system’.

Meanwhile, the Bar Council told regulators that they show their independence from government by speaking out about the impact of legal aid cuts.

Responding to the Legal Services Board’s business plan consultation, the Bar Council said the watchdog ‘should not shy away’ from criticising government policy, particularly given that one of its objectives is improving access to justice.