The Ministry of Justice has announced increased legal aid fees for advocates in complex crown court cases.
Responding to a second consultation on proposals on the revised Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme, the Lord Chancellor David Gauke said the budget would rise by £23m – an extra £8m on top of the £15m previously announced.
The move came after an initial consultation to introduce fixed fees, which led to protest action by criminal barristers before the ministry agreed to increase spending by £15m.
Days before the announcement, five barristers had written to the Criminal Bar Association, stating that they would no longer accept cases with large volumes of written evidence, due to ‘derisory’ fees that mean they are paid below the minimum wage.
Announcing the move, Gauke also promised to bring forward a 1% increase on all fees. The money will be specifically targeted at junior advocates and the scheme will be reviewed after 18 months.
Gauke said: ‘Criminal defence advocates play a crucial role in upholding the rule of law, and it is vital that their pay adequately reflects the work they do in a fair and sustainable way.’
Speaking at the Bar Council’s annual conference, the day after the announcement, Bar Chair Andrew Walker QC said that justice and the rule of law have been put at risk due to ‘political folly’ and ‘expediency’. He branded the legal aid cuts a ‘betrayal’ that present a ‘huge threat to access to justice’.
Welcoming the extra money announced as a ‘positive first step’, Richard Hoyle, Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee, said at the conference: ‘Barristers from all across the Bar need to stand with our most junior practitioners at the publicly funded Bar as they try to find their feet, build their practices, and defend our most vital interests on little money and even less sleep.’
Meanwhile, two judicial heavyweights also warned about the impact of the legal aid cuts. The former President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, told the BBC that things had gone ‘badly wrong’ over the past 20 years and said that ministers were taking the rule of law for granted and risked starving the justice system.
Sir Brian Leveson, Head of Criminal Justice, told the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association’s 70th anniversary dinner that without ‘new young blood’, suspects would face trials unrepresented. He cited Law Society research showing that the average age of duty solicitors was slightly under 50.