Categorized | Criminal Justice, Legal Aid

Justice secretary offers to suspend latest cut in fees

Justice secretary offers to suspend latest cut in fees

Justice secretary Michael Gove has offered to suspend the latest 8.75% legal aid fee cut imposed on criminal law solicitors.

A second 8.75% fee cut was introduced on 1 July, which prompted thousands of solicitors to boycott legal aid work under the new rate. The boycott was called off in August.

Gove’s conciliatory gesture follows a fresh round of talks last week between Ministry of Justice officials, the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA), the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA). and the Big Firms Group. A member of the Criminal Bar Association attended as an observer.

The suspension would apply to all work on cases that begin in the three month window, even if a case concluded after 10 April 2016 (i.e. for the life of the case). It therefore falls far short of a permanent suspension.
The justice secretary made the following proposal:

“A suspension of the fee cut which would mean that the new fixed and standard fees being introduced on 11 January for police station attendance, magistrates’ court representation and Crown Court representation in cases with fewer than 501 pages of prosecution evidence (PPE) would be increased to reflect only the first 8.75% reduction for the three month period. Other fees, where the fee scheme structure remains unchanged (eg Crown Court cases with more than 501 PPE, Court of Appeal fees and fees for advice and assistance outside the police station) would revert to the fee levels that applied before the 1 July 2015 change.”

Gove will press ahead with plans for a reduced number of duty provider contracts in the absence of any viable alternative, the statement said.

The justice secretary indicated that the suspension was a reflection of the negotiations and good will established over the summer, which he would like to see continue as a consequence of his proposal. He emphasised that if the profession choose to return to action in an attempt to derail two tier then it is likely that the offer of a suspension will be withdrawn and any constructive engagement will cease.

New contracts for criminal solicitors in England and Wales are due to be announced by the Ministry of Justice later this month and expected to come into effect early next year. A survey by the groups on whether firms would be prepared to withdraw their bids for new legal aid contracts closed last week.

CLSA chair Bill Waddington and LCCSA president Jonathan Black issued a statement which said: “We are currently reviewing the proposal and seeking clarification before we respond. We report the situation at this stage to allow for complete transparency and to keep the profession updated. We will provide the profession with further information as and when we receive it and welcome thoughtful responses as soon as possible. It might assist if we receive feedback via local representatives where possible.”

The ‘Law Gazette’s’ readers comments suggest the probability of a caustic and hostile response.

Photo courtesy of Policy Exchange

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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