Tag Archive | "Criminal Legal Aid Committee"

Reforming the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme


The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has issued a consultation paper which sets out proposals for the reform of the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS). This scheme pays advocates to defend clients in the Crown Court. The current AGFS scheme was last subject to major change in 2007.

In his introduction to the consultation, Sir Oliver Heald QC MP, Minister of State for Courts and Justice, said: “Sir Brian Leveson has produced an outstanding blueprint for the modernisation of our criminal proceedings system. His reforms are already beginning to transform the criminal justice system to reflect the new reality that we face. It is vital that we update the way that we pay criminal defence advocates to reflect this reality too. Our current payment system does not focus enough on the skilled advocacy that barristers and solicitor advocates demonstrate in the Crown Court. I want to change that.”

According to the Government, the AGFS relies too heavily on Pages of Prosecution Evidence (PPE), served by the Crown Prosecution Service, as a means of deciding how complex individual cases are, and therefore how much a defence advocate should be paid. The current scheme also relies on the number of witnesses to help determine the fee to be paid.

The justice system is changing, and new forms of evidence are becoming critical features of many criminal cases. The counting of pages, and counting of new forms of electronic evidence, converted to “pages” is held to be no longer the most effective way of assessing how much work an advocate needs to do in an individual case, and therefore how much that advocate should be paid.

The proposed scheme claims to reduce reliance on counting pages, and instead would introduce a more sophisticated system of classifying offences, based on the typical amount of work required in each case. The time spent in court, conducting the advocacy upon which the justice system relies, would also become a more important driver for the fee paid. It is designed to be cost neutral, “with no intention to reduce or increase the overall cost envelope.”

While encouraging as many members as possible to respond to the proposals, the Law Society asserts that MoJ plans to impose cuts of up to £30 million on criminal defence solicitors. The proposed cuts come less than a month after the MoJ published proposals that will see QCs’ fees rise by 10% at the expense of other criminal advocates. The MoJ will reduce payments to advocates appointed by the court to cross-examine alleged victims of abuse from private rates to legal aid rates, and will make changes to the Litigators Graduated Fee Scheme (LGFS) which will slash payments for paper-heavy Crown Court cases. Criminal solicitors simply cannot afford to absorb any further cuts.

James Parry, chair of the Law Society’s Criminal Legal Aid Committee, said that these cuts are unnecessary and ill-timed, given the long term project to reform the litigator fee scheme, which will ultimately remove reliance on the pages of evidence which are creating this problem. As the Society will be working with the MoJ on this longer term project “it is unwise to impose short-term cuts on the scheme before that project has even started.”

“The Ministry has extensive independent evidence from consultants that demonstrates that solicitors’ businesses cannot afford to absorb further cuts, and there is a substantial risk that these cuts will drive a significant number of firms into insolvency,” said Parry.

“We recognise that the MoJ has concerns about the use of paper as a proxy for determining fees in the Crown Court,” he said. “With so much evidence now being video or data evidence, we have long shared those concerns. This is why we lobbied the Legal Aid Agency to start discussions about revisions to the LGFS to reflect the reality of Crown Court cases today. It is deeply disappointing that the MoJ is making ill-considered ad hoc changes to the scheme when those discussions are ongoing and making good progress.”

Parry concluded: “This is not a rational approach. The Government needs to tackle the problem at source. It cannot keep responding to every change in the criminal justice system by slashing the fees paid to lawyers.”

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal Aid, UncategorizedComments (0)


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