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‘Ministry of Injustice’: Lawyers hold candlelight vigil over legal aid cuts

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Barristers have been refusing to take new publicly-funded cases since 1 April

Image credit: Twitter @thebarcouncil

Hundreds of campaigners stood shoulder-to-shoulder yesterday evening outside the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) as part of a protest over the government’s ravaging cuts to legal aid. The ‘Vigil for Justice’, organised by campaign group the Justice Alliance, comes just days after the number of chambers refusing to accept publicly-funded defence work hit 91.

Twitter was awash last night with eye-catching images of solicitors, barristers and more mourning the metaphorical death of the UK justice system. Those gathered heard impassioned speeches from the likes of Garden Court Chambers’ Mark George QC, Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon MP and Young Legal Aid Lawyers’ co-chair Katherine Barnes.

Placards were aplenty: Legal Cheek particularly liking this Pusheen the cat-inspired effort.

As day turned to night, many protestors started lighting candles.

At one point, ‘Ministry of Injustice’ was projected onto the side of the MoJ’s office.

The protests suggest many lawyers agree with the Criminal Bar Association’s (CBA) position that ‘enough is enough’.

In March, CBA members voted overwhelming in favour of direct action from 1 April. This was in response to changes to the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS), which barristers say will result in further cuts to their income. Nearly three weeks on, and it is now understood that over 90 chambers are declining legal aid-funded defence work.

And things don’t look much brighter for their solicitor counterparts.

New research published by the Law Society this week suggests criminal defence solicitors may become extinct in parts of England and Wales within five years. Citing “drastic cuts” and an increasingly ageing profession, Law Society president Joe Egan warned that the justice system was facing a “cliff edge scenario”.

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32 Comments

K&E rat (a kind one)

#SaveTheCriminalBar

(8)(1)

Not Amused

Dear God this hurts.

Letting the left hyjack the issue will just further politicised it and mean nothing changes. If you want to fix this then you need cross party support.

The criminal bar have made the same mistake for the last 25 years and watching them do it again is now physically painful.

(14)(16)

Anonymous

A buisness not undertaking work which makes no profit is a not a political issue. It is a commercial decsion, which people in buisness make every day regardless of their personal politics. Finance Companies do not make loans to people who are bad financial risks as it is likely they will make a loss on a deal. Taxi drivers do not pick up fares who offer a fee that does not cover the fuel costs of driving to the destination. Plumbers do not accept jobs where the fee offered does not cover the costs of their materials.

Scheme 10 removed all payment for preparation work by removing the PPE uplift. So there is no payment for reading the papers, doing the DCS, completing the bad character notices, time spent in conference etc.

The fixed fee offered for a case involing the alleged theft of a mars bar with 10 pages of evidence to read is now exactly the same as a the fee offered for a complex fraud with 5,000 pages of banking, computer, phone and expert accountancy evidence to read and reduce to admissions.

The fixed fee offered for a case involving an alleged possession of a single cannabis joint (where the Defendant will get a fine if convicted) is now the same as the fee offered for a conspiracy to supply 2 killos of heroin (where the Defendant will get 15 years if convicted). The difference in preparation time means that to accept the more serious case in each of the new fixed fee groups means that any serious work (which tends to be briefed to the Bar) is loss making as it pays the same fee as a case which takes an hours work to prepare.

What is it you suggest the Criminal Bar should be doing? Keep accepting loss making work? The descsion to refuse the work is purely commercial.

(20)(0)

Anonymous

And what is the fee? I’m not an English barrister.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Under the Old Scheme 9 (the Schemes are named for the number of time Labour and Tory govenment has cut the fixed fee since 1997) a PPE uplift of 95 pence per page of prosecution evidence served (starting at page 51). We have always been required to read the unused material unpaid, but PPE meant there was an indirect payment reflecting the fact that you have to do more work on a more serious case.

So under Scheme 9 for a two day shoplifting trial with 10 pages of evidence (including attending the PTPH hearing, up to 4 mention hearings and all paper work) paid a total fixed fee of £694. So if the case ran smoothly you made about £230 per day, but if the court adjorned the case several times then you’d make £99 per day. That is turnover not profit however. But a pupil barrister would be likley to be instructed in a shoplifting trial and £99 to £230 a day will at least make you a profit as a pupil.

Under Scheme 9 for a fraud with 10,000 pages of evidence (including attending the PTPH hearing, up to 4 mention hearings and all paper work) paid a total fixed fee of £10,445.

Under Scheme 10, both cases pay exactly the same fee. A fixed fee in either case of £750 whether the case is a theft of a Mars Bar or a Fraud under 1 million pounds. So that is a 93% cut to the fee offered for the fraud and a 7.5% rise to the fee payable for the shoplifting.

So if you were able to do a shoplifting trial every week for the 40 weeks a year you’d turnover £30,000 per year. Not a lot, but not terrible for a baby barrister who has just qualified.

However, the fraud would probabley take you 2 weeks to prepare (for no pay). There is no pay for preparing the shoplifting either, but that on takes a couple of hours work and doesn’t take you out of Court. So if you accepted back to back frauds (bearing in mind each one is going to take you two weeks work to prep) you would now make under the new scheme about £15,000 a year (turnover not profit).

The more serious case is now no longer profitable to do, as you make a loss by accepting the work as the fee doesn’t cover your practice costs. And why would you want to take difficult fraud cases for half the turnover of doing simple shopliftings.

(18)(0)

Anonymous

Thanks for the explanation.

Anonymous

No problem. But this is why NA’s take on things is completley wrong. For a commercial lawyer he doesn’t seem to understand commerce. We haven’t gone on stike and we are not being at all left wing.

We are acting like good old market forces drive buisness. The govement made us an offer. We’ll pay you £83 a day for doing a serious case in the Crown Court or you could go down the Mags Court and make £350 per day covering a Court Duty Session / £220 per client represented on an 8 hour police station rota / £750 for a HSF 1 day common assault trial.

Pretty simple maths huh?

Not Amused

“we are not being at all left wing”

I can’t tell if you believe this or whether you are willfully misunderstanding matters.

However my point stands and is a good one. Allying with one party in a two party system politicises the issue. Justice should not be party political. But it is also extremely silly because it means the goals pursued can never be achieved.

For the last 25 years the legal aid lawyers have done this and allied with the left. That immediately limits the options for a solution. By picking one party you immediately alienate the one you did not pick. If the one you did not pick is in government then congratulations, you’ve just unnecessarily alienated the only people with power to assist your cause (slow hand clap).

The decision to make the matter party political and picking a party, means their best bet is a change of government. So best case scenario is change in 2022. But here is what is even more foolish – in a party political system, if you are seen as a cast iron supporter of one party then you don’t actually get what you want while ‘your party’ are in power either. You are seen as ‘the base’ and your support is guaranteed – that’s why Labour froze and cut legal aid last time it was in power.

If you are going to pretend the legal aid lawyers aren’t allied to the left then I invite you to scroll up to the story and note a Mr Burgon (he’s usually hard to miss) and the PCS union. Then google Justice Alliance UK, click to ‘about us’ and note the partners. They include – Society of Labour Lawyers, Unite and Stop the War Coalition among others.

So the legal aid lawyers have decided to go party political, just like they always do, the result will be as predictable, the whole thing is utterly depressing and completely tragic.

Anonymous

Sorry NA, but you are factually wrong. Does it not ever occur to you to do a bit of reaseach? The Bar has opposed both Left and Right as both Left and Right have cut the AGF fees and neither of them has ever rasied them.

AGF was introduced in 1997 under Labour. The first 7 cuts to the payment scheme were made by a left wing govenment. The Conservative / Lib Dem Govenment made two further cuts and the current govenment has made its firs cut with Scheme 10.

It is simply a fact that govenments of all political have cut the fee and failed to raise it.

There is nothing left wing about declining to accept a brief on a fraud with 40 arch lever files to read for a fee of £4.60 per hour. It doesn’t make a profit as the fee generated does not cover the cost of doing buisnesss.

Would you like to name a tory voter who accepts work at £4.60 per hour? The one thing, left and right can agree upon, it that nobody will work at that level of pay. It isn’t about politics.

It is about the simpe fact plain to anybody who is in buisness that you cannot run a buisness on the basis that your running costs exceed your income.

Not Amused

Willfully misunderstanding it is then.

It remains extremely sad that nothing will change until the legal aid lawyers stop looking for a party political solution and stop cosying up to the left (and in this instance the disreputable hard left).

Criminal Practitioner

I agree with NA. Allowing an opposition MP to use this serious issue as a platform to raise his profile won’t help us. Stunts like this won’t help us either. So far as I can see, the only purpose of this event was to allow the militant wing of the criminal bar to hold a self congratulatory get together, further alienating those who don’t support our cause already.

Anonymous

What rubbish.
The legal system is in chaos.
Which Hhj said justice is a right not a privilege? ??
Got that but wrong didn’t he?

(0)(1)

Anonymous

Go and look up the Funding Order:

Higher Crime – Band 6.4 AGF Fixed Fee Trial : £750.
Lower Crime – Fixed Fee Police Station Attendance: £237.25 (Central London Scheme).
Lower Crime – Duty Solicitor Hourly Rate: £50.64.
Lower Crime – Catagory 2 Summay Trial: £723.35.

The system is in chaos because legal aid fees have been frozen for 21 years and subject to 10 cuts. If the public want legal aid barristers to do their cases for a profit of £0 then the answer is no. The fact that the general public have not got a clue what barristers are actually paid (even though its all on line to find with a google search) does not affect the commercial reality. It isn’t that barristers are refusing to do work on legal aid rates. It is that we cannot accept work where we make a loss. If we do, we go bankrupt anyway and there is still no representation. Sorry, you do actually have to pays if you want us to provide the service.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

So 700 quid for a summary trial? That seems quite high.

(0)(1)

Anonymous

For a High Standard Fee Summary trial it is £723.25. For a Lower Standard Fee Summary Trial the fee is £350. An all day summary trial would reach HSF, but a half day summary trial would be unlikley to. The fee is for the whole case, including 1st Appearance and a sentence if there is one and the preparation work as well. But it does show the extent of the cut to AGF.

The new Case Fee for a Band 6.4 Crown Court Trial (including preparation) is £750. £125 is payable for attendance at the PTPH, so the total fee for a 1 day Band 6.4 Crown Court trial with 10,000 pages of evidence to read including the pre-trial hearing is £875. However a common assault trial, with 5 witnesses and 50 pages of evidence to read might to take day to prepare. Whereas a £99,000 fraud by a bank worker with thousands of pages of evidence to read would take much longer to prepare. In the time it takes to prepare an do one Band 6.4 case, you could have prepared and done 5 or 6 HSF common assault trials.

Anonymous

Fee for a summary trial in Ireland is about 70€ and 25€ per remand.

Smug CMS Trainee

If you think you’re underpaid then perhaps just change your job? Nobody put a gun to these people’s heads and forced them to do criminal bar.

No sympathy.

(2)(40)

Slackwater

You are missing the point. It’s not just the legal professionals that suffer. I’m sure the people they won’t represent due to cuts are even more up the creek.

(7)(1)

Smug CMS Trainee

They shouldn’t have broken the law, then. Simple.

(0)(18)

Anonymous

Is this seriously the least obvious trolling anyone can come up with?

(2)(1)

Anonymous

Smug is not the word.

(0)(1)

Hilarity at its best!

How can a CMS Trainee be smug?

(16)(0)

mcsenassoc

I certainly wouldn’t describe myself as “smug” if I were training at CMS.

(10)(0)

fbdlawyer

What a joker. I wouldn’t wipe my arse with the likes of CMS.

(12)(0)

Anonymous

Err, what part of the Criminal Bar has stopped undertaking Legal Aid work was too difficult for you?

(2)(0)

Anonymous

It’s Gandhi

(0)(0)

Anonymous

It’s મોહનદાસ કરમચંદ ગાંધી

(0)(0)

Corbyn. Symphathiser

I like this gimmick.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

It’s Ghandi

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Got to giggle at the crimbo hacks with their atrocious spelling.

(0)(1)

Anonymous

At least we can add.

(1)(0)

Em

When Richard Burgon turns up – Venezula supporting Richard Burgon that is – you know its nothing to do with Justice, its to do with revolution.
If you were Lawyers in Comrade Corbyn’s ideal World you’d not have an independent Trade Union nor would you have the right to strike.

(0)(0)

Comments are closed.

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