The Commission’s new proposals for very high cost cases (VHCCs), launched in December, drop plans for hourly rates and propose a fixed fee element for the core tasks, with the rest of the pre-trial preparation fee subject to negotiation. There is no longer a requirement for advocates to join a panel, or to be part of a litigator’s team when they bid. Litigators will negotiate how much work they carry out in a contract, and cases will be structured around a series of core litigation tasks.

The proposals were drafted by a steering group including the Bar Council, Ministry of Justice, Criminal Bar Association, Law Society, Crown Prosecution Service and Legal Services Commission.

The Bar Council and Criminal Bar Association have welcomed the consultation paper. Tim Dutton QC, 2008 Bar Council Chairman, commented that the “robust scheme” was “testament to the professionalism and goodwill which all involved have shown”.
Barristers largely boycotted the VHCC panel set up last January, forcing the Commission to revise its plans, and the revised scheme set up in its place is due to expire in July 2009.

Tim Dutton QC said: “The proposed scheme should provide a fair payment mechanism, which reflects the complexity of the cases in question, and the concomitant expertise required of those advocates who conduct them. It will deliver within budget.”

The consultation will run until 30 January 2009. A separate consultation will run in March to consider the details of the advocate’s contract; thought to be case-specific.