News

Bar suspends legal aid protest escalation following £15 million government offer

By on
24

Barristers will continue to refuse new publicly-funded cases

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has pressed pause on plans to ramp up its legal aid protest after apparently being offered £15 million by government ministers.

In a statement to its members, the CBA said there had been a “breakthrough” after it met with the Lord Chancellor, a legal aid minister and Ministry of Justice (MoJ) officials earlier this week. The deal reportedly includes extra cash for junior barristers and additional funding for fraud, drug and child sex cases. The offer, according to the CBA, equates to £15 million in extra investment.

CBA chair Angela Rafferty said:

“This has been very difficult to achieve and has been an almost non-stop effort on our part. We have been involved in extreme efforts to get to a position where we can consult the membership about a resolution.”

Rafferty added: “You will all have your own views and these will be critical. I have repeatedly stated that we will not accept any offer without proper and meaningful consultation.” More detailed information about the deal will be sent through to barristers via their heads of chambers.

In March, members of the CBA voted overwhelmingly in favour of refusing new publicly-funded cases from 1 April. This quasi-strike action was in response to the government’s changes to the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS), which it’s understood will result in further cuts to legal aid lawyers’ income. Around 100 chambers have since joined the walkout.

The 2018 Chambers Most List

Applying further pressure on the government, the CBA confirmed in May it would would be escalating the strike action to include a “no returns” policy on legally-aided crown court defence cases. This escalation in action has now been suspended until 12 June with “immediate effect”. Barristers will, though, continue to decline new publicly-funded cases, according to the statement.

Suggestions of a possible deal come just days after it emerged that unqualified law firm workers were having to step into the void left by absent barristers.

The Justice Committee, headed up by former criminal barrister Bob Neill MP, heard reports of support staff, including legal secretaries, effectively being “bullied” by judges into conducting hearings.

Sign up to the Legal Cheek Newsletter

24 Comments

Wachirapong

What ever happened to the use of solicitor advocates? They do both want barristers and solicitors do. Best of both worlds

Bored in court

Not enough court time to allow every plea in mitigation to last half an hour without reference to the sentencing guidelines.

Anonymous

Solicitor Advocates are by and large suitable for the minor matters, I wouldn’t want one representing me if I had been accused of murder however.

Anonymous

Solicitor advocates also have to do their minium 14 hours per week of lower crime work and cover their police station and court duties to comply with their LAA Contracts. Solicitor advocates don’t do what a barrister and solicitor does. They haven’t got the time to be in court all week on a trial, whereas barristers do.

I don’t think it is a question of quality. There are some terrible barristers and some great solicitor advocates. But you don’t get two for the price of one as any solicitor advocate will inevitably have to spend most of their time doing litigation and LAA contract work.

Anonymous

Apologies, I wasn’t intending to discredit solicitor advocates, I agree that there are great ones out there and poor barristers.

The problem is that if you have a solicitor and a barrister then you double your chances of receiving a competent service.

If you have an incompetent solicitor advocate then you don’t necessarily have the same safeguard.

Also, the concept of solicitor advocates was never intended to replace the bar, work together, share some roles and responsibilities but never replace.

Anonymous

We need the American system. Get rid of barristers or make them take an exam to bring them up to competence on a par with solicitors who deal with a million other things.

Criminal Hack

*rolls eyes and sighs

Anonymous

Barrister Litigator.

It already exists.

Anonymous

I’m sorry I thought soclitors had objectives to both client and partner justice seems to be lost when greed is about. Not barrister who are they ultimately beholdened to Ahh that’s right the court aka justice. An there’s where the prestige comes from and richly deserved i say x

Anonymous

This is a terrible offer. £15m is not an offer of more funding but rather a small reduction in cuts.

Anonymous

I concur dear boy…

Anonymous

£15 million (if annually) works out to be £3,750 per CBA member if the estimated 4000 in practice is correct. Not that the money would be distributed in such a manor; however, I know many baby barristers that wouldn’t turn down that money right now.

Anonymous

You think every member of the criminal bar would make an equivalent?

What is likely to happen is the government will cut from the bottom and give to those at the top. Then the bigwigs will call off the protest.

The legal aid budget in 2006 was £2.6bn. In 2016 it was £1.5bn. Over a billion has been been cut in the past decade. £15m is a drop in the ocean.

Anonymous

To follow up on the point about the alleged £15 million rise. In 2010 the AGF budget was £350 Million. Last year it was £240 Million (a cut of 31% before factoring in inflation). So the alleged increase takes the budget back to £255 Million.

The offer is therefore 27% below 2010 rates. Distrubting that money equally does not give a rise. It would work out as a cut of £23,750 per member of the bar compared 2010 rates. The fixed fees are now so erroded by 20 years of inflation, that many cases will still be loss making to do as the fixed fee does not cover the train fare and practice running costs.

Any MPs or any other publicly sector worker happy to work for 27% less than what the were paid 8 years ago with no sick pay, holiday, maternity leave or employment rights?

Anonymous

Whatever happens, the senior crim barristers will shaft the juniors. This is not an industry acting in solidarity; it’s a collection of self-employed agents each with an eye on the main chance. But those at the top of the ladder have all the power and all the say.

Juniors should get out now.

Corby. Sympathiser

Bloody Nazi.

Anonymous

Sorry, but that itsn’t factually true. Fees at all levels of work have been subject to the same percentage cuts since 1995. The 2010 rebanding of Group A to the same fee as Group J affacted Seniors alone as few juniors are instructed in murder trials.

The new scheme did move money from the Senior end to the junior end by banding offences of very different seriousness together. The fee for a two day shoplifting trial with 4 witnesses and 50 pages of evidence, a PTPH, mention and sentence was £650. Scheme 10 increased that to £1,405. However, the fee for a case with 10,000 pages of evidence and 100 witnesses was reduced from £10,400 to also be £1,405. The changes made to the scheme were only cost neutal as compared to 1995 rates of pay.

The problem for junior members is the level of renumeration in the Magistrates Court. That is a separate issue, caused by the removal of Travel and Waiting payments in 2010 and the fact that solicitors fees for lower crime advocacy have also been fozen since 1995 are now at the same level as 1978. When I started practice in 1995, a Magistartes remand paid £100. Today it pays £50. However £50 was a lot of cash in groovy funking 1978!

As a baby barrister in 1995, I turned over about £25,000 a year doing Magistartes remands (about £40,000 a year in todays money). A baby barrister in 2018 doing the same level of work would turn over £13,000. It isn’t just that the fee was cut from £100 per remand to £50. It is that 23 years of inflation has erroded the fixed fee to a level where a profit cannot be made from the fixed fee. In 1995 after paying expenses I made a profit of about £20,000 a year (when the average price of a house in London was £107,000). A junior doing the same work in 2018 would make a profit of about £8,000 (when the average price of a house in London is £664,000).

The issue for junior members (and why junior members are leaving the criminal bar in droves) is not the amount paid for Crown Court work. It is that all barristers start off being briefed in Magistrates cases and it takes several years to build up a Crown Court practice. Twenty years ago, the fees paid for Magistrates Cases allowed juniors to do spend their early years in practice in the Magistrates Court and still make a living. Today that simply is not possible.

The issue however is the same for all barristers (and solicitors for that matter). 23 years of inflation on top of a 30% cut has so erroded fixed fees that the fixed fee paid for the case will often not cover the cost of doing the case or generate a profit so small that it is not worth doing. This affects juniors disproportanatley as the starting point at 1995 levels was lower for junior work and so is more affected by inflation.

Junior Junior

I commend the CBA Exec for making some headway with the MoJ, however I for one will be voting to reject the proposal. £15m will not being about the necessary reform and rectify the shortcomings arising from a budget that has been butchered over many years and governments.

This is something more than the AGFS and any deal should reflect that. The support received from our colleagues in the solicitors profession has been overwhelming, and that must also be factored in to the outcome.

We have the MoJ on the ropes, and with the unprecedented unity across the legal profession as a whole, it’s hopeful that British justice can be restored to something worthy of a liberal democracy.

Gregory Sandhurst

Illustrative of a side product of the current CBA action is the fact that, on Friday last week, we Solicitor Advocates outnumbered Counsel by 3:2 in my local Crown Court. One of my fellow “SAs”, as the senior clerk in a local Chambers disdainfully refers to us, commented, “I must do this more often. It’s not that different to our day to day work in the Magistrates Court.” I agree. It’s also quite pleasant billing AGFS claims on top of LGFS claims.

Be careful of what you wish for, CBA. The current situation is resulting in more “SAs” spending increased amounts of time in the Crown Courts and gaining confidence. The improved cash flow by billing AGFS claims, as well as LGFS claims, is something that firms with currently underused “SAs” might become used to as well. It will become economic to employ in house Advocates in the absence of Counsel wanting to take on new work.

I strongly believe in an independent specialist Bar, so I hope that the CBA does resolve this soon. On the other hand, don’t be surprised if those of us facing the clients publicly on a day to day basis, and wanting to do a proper job of representing them, make our own contingency arrangements in the absence of Counsel.

Anonymous

Yes but you’re almost all just SO AWFUL!!

Gregory Sandhurst

You miss the point with your petulant generalising comment. Practice increases confidence and competence. Does your label of awfulness extend to newly qualified members of the Bar before they gain experience?

You also seem to forget just who brings the work in via their chalk face attendances at the police station and magistrates courts. We supply the Briefs, so you would be well advised to adjust your attitude towards “awful” solicitors.

Sadly, your comment neatly encapsulates the division that continues to exist between solicitors and the Bar. It’s a myth that solicitors broadly support your action. By all means sit at home with no work coming up over the next few months as a result of your principles. You may find that Solicitor Advocates become less “awful” in that time.

Incidentally, I have met many appalling barristers and no doubt will continue to do so.

Anonymous

Solicitors have never supported the Bar’s Action. We had the same thing in 2014. Fees were cut by 8.75%. The Bar went on strike and got the fee cut reversed. Solicitors refused to strike and then wanted the Bar to keep striking until the govenment reversed the solicitors fee cut as well. Solicitors didn’t take action this time either and kept accepting LGF cases despite the fee cut.

It would be better if both branches of the profession took action. If firms want to deploy advocates at the new rates, it’s up to them. Personally, I wouldn’t take a solicitor advocate off a Court Duty paying £350 for the day to do a mention paying £90. It isn’t a question of experience. It is that the fees offered are too low to make a profit from the work. Solicitor advocates are in the same boat. If you want to pay a solicitor advocate to spend three weeks going through 40 Arch Level files of evidence completly unpaid, then that is up to you. Good luck turn a profit though.

Gregory Sandhurst

You make a very good point. Thank you.

Until the CBA action is resolved, we’ll simply maintain our current policy of not applying for legal aid in (and not briefing out) contested cases clearly going to the Crown Court, keeping as much as possible in the Magistrates Court and utilising our higher court qualified staff for plea only advocacy.

Dominic D’Souza

Having read your threads Gregory it’s clear you have very sensible contributions to make. I’m pleased you take the time to post as you do.

Join the conversation

Related Stories