Categorized | Criminal Justice, Legal Aid

LSC propose graduated fees for VHCC cases – “not viable”, says Law Society.

LSC propose graduated fees for VHCC cases –  “not viable”, says Law Society.

Last week the Legal Services Commission announced the launch of a consultation on the replacement scheme for Very High Cost (Crime) Cases (VHCCs).

Chief Executive Carolyn Regan said: “The LSC is setting out a number of options for the most complex and expensive criminal cases that are designed to ensure clients continue to receive high quality legal advice. At the same time, it will also ensure litigators and advocates are fairly paid and are encouraged to work efficiently so that taxpayers receive value-for-money”. The new scheme is designed to replace the VHCC Panel scheme, established in January 2008, and the LSC makes no bones about the need to deliver savings.

For advocates, three options are proposed for consideration: to maintain the current panel system; an adaptation of the current hourly rate scheme but managed under individual case contracts; and extending the current Advocates’ Graduated Fee scheme, which is used in cases that last up to 40 days, to include cases that are expected to last up to 60 days. All cases that last 60 days or more would be paid at 2008 Panel rates. For litigators there are two options for consideration: to maintain the current panel scheme; and extending the current Litigators’ Graduated Fee scheme, on the same basis as the Advocates’ Graduated Fee scheme detailed above.

The Law Society has hit back at the plans to extend the Litigators Graduated Fee Scheme to VHCCs. Robert Heslett, Law Society President, said it was a barely-tested scheme and not a viable option. “The LGFS has not been in place long enough to have been properly evaluated. There have been numerous problems with it. It underpays for certain types of serious and sexual assault case, and for cases which are prepared for trial but then result in a guilty plea”. He pointed to the operational difficulties in validating the pages of prosecution evidence on which the payment calculation depends, adding that the scheme needs to be made to work for the cases for which it was designed before it can be extended to additional cases. “The scheme does not have any mechanism to take account of the work on unused material or the management required on very high cost cases. It depends on a ‘swings and roundabouts’ principle, but as most firms will only handle one or two VHCC cases per year, the sample is not large enough for the swings and roundabouts effect to function and firms will be subject to a greater risk of incurring substantial losses on these cases.”

The Law Society also said that an extended advocates graduated fee scheme raises many challenges. It may not be attractive to advocates without addressing some of the structural issues currently under discussion. This could mean that advocates are less likely to take on cases under the proposed system which could have serious implications for clients being able to obtain representation in long running trials.

The consultation closes on 26 January 2010 and all interested parties are encouraged to respond. The full text of the consultation document is at:

https://consult.legalservices.gov.uk/inovem/gf2.ti/f/184610/3234053.1/pdf/-/VHCC%202010%20%20A%20Consultation%20Paper%20%20Dec%202009.pdf

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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