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Criminal barristers to vote on £15 million legal aid offer

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Protest escalation suspended last week following ‘breakthrough’ talks with government

Criminal barristers are gearing up to vote on a £15 million legal aid offer put forward by government.

In a message to its members, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said it will meet with heads of chambers tomorrow to discuss the offer, which reportedly includes extra cash for junior barristers and additional funding for fraud, drug and child sex cases.

The CBA’s statement said:

“We would like to make it clear to you that this offer is the culmination of a significant amount of work that took place over some time. It is right you should know that the initial, unsurprising and uncompromising position of the government was that no new money would be made available. This was maintained for many weeks. This offer is not the ‘first’ on either side. We have presented you with the government’s bottom line.”

In March, CBA members voted in favour of refusing new publicly-funded cases from 1 April. This 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. Just over 100 chambers have since joined the quasi-strike action, according to a document circulating on social media.

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Turning the screw on the government, the CBA confirmed in May it would be escalating the strike action to include a “no returns” policy on legally-aided crown court defence cases. However, this proposed action has since been suspended until 12 June following the government’s £15 million offer. Barristers continue to decline new publicly-funded cases.

Legal aid aside, the CBA says it also raised “wider considerations” during its sit-down with government representatives. This included the proposed “cancellation” or “long term postponement” of the highly controversial flexible operating hours (FOH) pilot. The project could see courts across the country open earlier and close later. The CBA says that the Ministry of Justice is currently considering “next steps for that project and is gathering more evidence on the effects of wider changes in the system”.

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11 Comments

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£15m? That’s how much it will cost to fix Snaresbrook Crown Court’s ceilings that have collapsed yesterday due to flood.

Anonymous

Chicken feed.

Anonymous

Don’t give up yet. I would be very surprised if the criminal bar voted in favour of this.

10 times this amount would still probably not be sufficient.

Anonymous

Good call. We won’t be voting in favour of it.

Anonymous

£1 billion cuts + £15m extra funding. I’ll pass.

Rowdy Merkin QC

Brexit means Brexit

Anonymous

What does QC Jolyon think of this?

BSB (+ ya mum)

Okay let’s get back to the REAL vote here people – Let’s Go Pikachu or Let’s Go Eevee?

Ian Dodd

The proposed ‘no returns’ action was called off on 23 May 2018 following meetings between the CBA and the MoJ. Below is a comparison of what the CBA said they wanted, in relation to AGFS fees, and what the MoJ offered.

What the CBA wanted Delay the implementation of the reformed AGFS scheme, or suspend its operation, pending further and more detailed consultation as to its impact on the criminal bar and the wider Criminal Justice System.
What the MoJ offered No delay or suspension.

What the CBA wanted Amend the scheme to invest in the more complex cases, which have been significantly cut and to invest in the scheme generally. The mechanism for this should allow remuneration for large volume of evidence cases previously described as “PPE” or “paper heavy cases”.
What the MoJ offered £8 million will be targeted towards the categories of case that lose heavily under the abolition of PPE (fraud, drug and high page sex cases). Significant analysis has taken place of these categories. The scheme is law despite the EDM. Therefore, a structural augmentation will be necessary to benefit those who have lost.
£4.5 million will be targeted towards junior fees (not Silk). It is envisaged that these funds would be utilized in a negotiated way to reflect career progression and sustainability for juniors.

What the CBA wanted Amend the scheme to include payment for high volumes of disclosed material. This should be reflected in a separate category to ‘special preparation’.
What the MoJ offered No payments for high volumes of disclosed material.

What the CBA wanted Commit to a full, costed review of the scheme within 12 months against 2016/17 figures to ascertain whether the scheme achieves its stated aim of ‘cost neutrality’ or whether it is under-funded.
What the MoJ offered The planned review of the scheme will take place within 18 months.

What the CBA wanted Commit to an index linked increase in AGFS fees.
What the MoJ offered There will be a 1 per cent increase in April 2019 across all fees.

Clearly, the only area in which the CBA got anything near its demands was in some immediate payments. The £8m for silks (mainly) and senior juniors involved in ‘paper heavy cases’ is disproportionate compared to the £4.5m for juniors and appears to be a reconstitution of the 10% fee increase silks wanted in the original proposals that the Bar Council AGFS Working Party suggested.
The £4.5m for juniors requires clarification as. “It is envisaged that these funds would be utilized in a negotiated way to reflect career progression and sustainability for juniors.” is meaningless as it stands.

As for the CBA’s insistence on involvement with reforms of the CJS, that is such a large, amorphous and complicated problem it’s hard to see the CBA affecting any meaningful changes even in the mid-term – even if they’re invited to.

Anonymous

Silks aren’t being given any of the proposed £15m.

Ian Dodd

From the CBA website (25 May 2018) and my piece above;

“The first £8 million will be targeted towards the categories of case that lose heavily under the abolition of PPE (fraud, drug and high page sex cases).”

Silks and senior juniors, then?

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