The Ministry of Justice has announced a further analysis of expert witness fees paid in legal aid work. It is seeking the support of civil and criminal legal aid solicitors in a data collection exercise being conducted on their behalf by the Legal Services Commission.
This follows a consultation exercise carried out last year on legal aid funding reforms. A response to the main consultation was published in December last year, but this did not include the proposals relating to expertsâ€™ fees. A further analysis, published in March this year, showed that 270 responses were received to the part of the consultation paper on expertsâ€™ fees. The majority of respondents were against imposing either fixed fees or the suggested hourly rates on the basis of current knowledge. There was a strong message from all categories of professional expert witness that if inadequate remuneration rates are imposed, this would lead to more experienced practitioners refusing to undertake the work, potentially leading to access and quality problems across England and Wales. It was accepted that something should be done to regulate rates charged as they were often variable and too high.
MoJ felt that several expert groups would be keen to assist them in gaining a better understanding of their work and better control over both price and quality. They therefore proposed a data gathering exercise to increase their understanding of the type of work experts undertake and what current rates are paid for this. Undoubtedly this is in response to the National Audit Officeâ€™s highly critical report to Parliament on the procurement of criminal legal aid in England and Wales and the Public Accounts Committeeâ€™s savaging of the Legal Services Commission. The PAC said: â€œBecause the Commission is the sole buyer of legal aid, it is important that it knows it is paying the right price for this and the effects its policies are having on the sustainability of providers. But it does not know enough about the costs and profitability of firms to know if it has set its fees at an appropriate levelâ€. To help analyse and validate the findings of this exercise, and work towards establishing fixed fees and hourly rates, where appropriate, MoJ also propose to set up a working group including expert witness representative bodies and other interested stakeholders.
The LSC has issued a request for participants in a file review of Â experts costs in legal aid work to ensure that the information collected is as comprehensive and representative as possible. The Commission has asked that practitioners send any recently closed legal aid case files that include invoices for expenditure on one or multiple expert witnesses, for inclusion in the review. They need to receive a representative sample across Family (certificated); Clinical Negligence (certificated) and Crime, for a list of specified matter types. The exercise will not include an examination of the costs of instructing interpreters. Practitioners willing to contribute to the file review should contact the LSCâ€™s Chester office as soon as possible. The data collection exercise will be taking place over 7 or 8 weeks from the beginning of May.
For the text of the letter of invitation go to:
For the full text of â€œLegal Aid: Funding Reforms Part Three: Expertsâ€™ Feesâ€ see: