News

Criminal barristers ACCEPT government’s £15 million legal aid offer

By on
37

52% 👍 48% 👎

Criminal barristers across England and Wales have very narrowly voted to accept a government offer of £15 million in additional legal aid funding, putting an end to the bar’s quasi-strike action.

In a ballot organised by the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), 1,566 of the 3,038 barristers who voted said they were willing to accept the offer. That’s just 52%.

The deal, first put forward by the government last month, is understood to include extra cash for junior barristers and additional funding for fraud, drug and child sex cases. It equates to £15 million in extra investment, according to the CBA.

Despite today’s breakthrough, CBA chair Angela Rafferty QC stressed that “anger and disillusionment” remains “exceptionally strong”, and that the criminal bar is “not going to be quiet”. The Red Lion Chambers barrister added:

“The damage done in recent decades will not be undone in weeks, or perhaps years. This proposal is the beginning and not the end of our campaign to improve the broken system we all work in every day. We still face exceptional difficulties, as do our solicitor colleagues. This will not fix the terrible conditions, the unhealthy and unreasonably onerous working practices and the general decrepitude. However, if we consider it a start we can build on it.”

The vote — which almost mirrors 2016’s EU referendum result — comes just months after criminal barristers began refusing new publicly-funded cases in protest against government changes to the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS). Around 100 chambers eventually joined the quasi-strike action, but today’s result will now bring this action to an end.

The 2018 Chambers Most List

Responding to today’s news, the Bar Council said “the closeness of the vote reflects the very real frustration, anger and concern for the future across the criminal bar”. Describing the government’s £15 million sweetener as a “patch repair”, it continued:

“The situation in the criminal justice system remains dire. Addressing the crisis is still urgent. The criminal bar and the Bar Council remain united in their concerns about the future and sustainability of the criminal justice system, and of the criminal bar itself, which plays such a fundamental role within that system.”

Sign up to the Legal Cheek Newsletter

37 Comments

Rabid Brexiteer

Great news – we all know 52%-48% is an overwhelming majority.

(21)(3)

Self-Entitled Remainer

We must continue to hold ‘democratic’ votes until we get the result I want.

It’s all about ME.

(10)(11)

Rabid Brexiteer

Provided they ask a vague question related to a fundamental aspect of political and economic life in this country, and that the result allows the government of the day to have carte blanche to do what they like in response with no recourse to parliament, that’s fine.

(6)(2)

Anonymous

Of course, any question written by me and put to the unwashed masses would be a masterpiece, carefully blending brevity and detail with such sophistication that political and economic commentators would celebrate it for years to come.

The result was wrong, the question was wrong, the People were wrong and now the Government is wrong. Only virtuous and upstanding Remainers like George Osborne, Nick Clegg and myself are aware of the injustice here.

(4)(6)

Anonymous

Shut your trap

(1)(0)

Not. Guiltay.

The End [of the Independent Criminal Bar] is Nigh.

(7)(1)

Bungo

Absolute crap.

People have been saying this for decades. And we are still here.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Will we still be here in another decade’s time? What this deal represents is a minor blip in a twenty-year trend of declining fees. In fact, the deal is still an overall cut, given that the Bar will be working on the crappy pre-deal rates until autumn, and then a below-inflation increase thereafter. There has been no movement on PPE, no yearly reviews, no commitment to funding the criminal justice system as a whole properly. This deal simply postpones the inevitable by a couple of months, and makes it impossible to organise any effective opposition if things get worse over the next couple of years (or if the government changes its position once again, which is pretty likely). There is nothing to celebrate in this deal and plenty to mourn.

(6)(0)

Yu Fon Giwtee

No defence lawyer here.

100% conviction rate.

What no to like?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

‘Damage done in recent decades’ is the key point here. The historical apathy towards the governments ‘death by a thousand cuts’ approach is why we are where we are.

Perhaps the entire legal community needs to be less polite and resort to the type of action that has resulted in this agreement.

If this is the start, the engagement of members needs to be maintained and a strong voice needs to continue to be heard. If dialogue fails, which it frequently does, strike again and hit them where it hurts.

(9)(0)

Anonymous

What a shit show

(9)(0)

Anonymous

I agree, “Love” Island is just that.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

More than likely the junior bar, and in particular London, voted against accepting. Overruled, just, but the circuits and the senior juniors.

(8)(2)

Sensible

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Who is the non-practising barrister in question?

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Was Sensible’s comment at 11:27 removed because it criticised a Legal Cheek sponsor?

(0)(0)

LC Team

Yes.

Commercial awareness.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

The new scheme did in fact increase fees in about 90% of cases and in particular low PPE cases, which the junior bar tends to do. The problem was it introduced 90% cuts to fees in the small volume of cases where PPE is over 1,000 pages. The extra money does not address that issue, so I suspect nobody will want to accept a paper heavy fraud or drugs case.

There is after all, no reason to accept a 10,000 page 2 kilo conspiracy to supply case requiring many hours of unpaid preparation and where the client will get 15 years if convicted when the fee is the same as a case involing simple possession of a single cannabis joint with 5 pages of evidence to read and where the client will get a fine if convicted.

We are all self-employed and we are meant to be reasonably intelligent people. I get pretty tired with m’learned friends posting on twitter that posting on twitter that they accepted a returned sentence paying £87 – £50 travel costs. The solution is simple. You are not required to accept the case. So don’t!

An all out strike was a mistake from the begining as we were simply turning down 90% of the work where we actually were being offered better fees in protest at the 10% of cases which were simply not worth doing.

All we need to do is not accept cases which do not pay a proper fee. So the next time two briefs land in your try. One offering you £1,405 for two days work and the other offering £1,405 for two weeks work, take the first brief and decline the second one.

This is what we should have done in the first place. This action is sustainable as we just do the cases that pay properly and do not lose any money as we don’t take the ones which don’t. It will leave about 10% of defendants unrepresented, but the solution to that is in the govenments hands to change the fee payments for those cases. As long as people accept badly paid cases, there is no reason for the govenment to change its ways.

Take matters into your own hands, by declining the badly paid cases and accepting the reasonably and well paid cases. It ain’t rocket science!

(12)(0)

Anonymous

Regardless of the pesky cab rank rule, your approach would only work if one was able to make a free choice between well-compensated and poorly-compensated work. What if you are an experienced fraud practitioner with a paper-heavy practice? Should you simply abandon your chosen area of practice, abandon your instructing solicitors, and forge a new career prosecuting s.39 punch-ups? What if the better-paying work has already been cannibalised by others in a similar position?

(1)(3)

Anonymous

Cab rank rule doesn’t apply as crim legal aid rates are so low.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

That’s true in theory. But are you going to refuse a big brief from an important solicitor because the fee (which will still be several thousands of pounds) is too low? Are you going to cease to act for a client part-way through a trial when the CPS dump thousands of pages of unused on you? It is very easy to say ‘just refuse the instruction’ but the reality is very different.

(4)(1)

Anonymous

Once you have accepted the brief you are stuck with it. You must act in your client’s best interests not yours. You must read all the unused, all the used and you cannot dump the client mid-trial. The only solution is not to accept the brief in the first place.

A big brief will not pay several thousand pounds. That is rather the point. A fraud with 6,000 pages of PPE and 100 witnesses (Band 6.5) will pay you a Brief Fee of £750. The same brief fee as shoplifting a mars bar with 50 PPE and 5 witnesses.

I am an instructing solicitor. Even with the cuts to LGF the same case would pay me £19,972.80 (plus VAT). I would not blame you for a second for refusing the brief. I would simply ring the Court and say “Sorry, I’ve rung 20 Chambers. I can’t find anyone who will do the case for a brief fee of £750.”

Bear in mind that I’ve been doing that for the last two months in relation to all my cases! What I am suggesting is that Bar should continue to refuse cases that do not pay proper fees. That might just force the MOJ to change that part of the new pay rates for barristers.

You would have our support on this not least as we know that if the govenment gets away with the abolishion of PPE for AGF, LGF will be next.

(11)(0)

Anonymous

I have an extensive career of carrying out s.39 punch ups and I’m a fucking judge

(3)(1)

Anonymous

Legal Aid fees were undeemed in 2003 so cab rank does not apply. Fraud cases were overpaid compared to violence and sex cases. I represented a 14 year old boy on a six handed cut-throat murder last year with 600 pages of used and 5,000 pages of unused. If convicted he would have been looking at life with a 30 year tariff. My brief fee was just under £2,000. On a fraud, where the client might be looking at 18 months, but with 5,000 pages of banking evidence to CTR-F my way through my brief fee under the old scheme was just over £7,500. No question which was the more difficult and serious case and the old scheme simply did not reflect that.

There are only a very small number of high PPE cases, so I don’t think your point that there is not enough sex and violence to go around is valid. The scheme does move money from not particularly serious high PPE cases to serious rapes, murders and GBHs which many not have high PPE (but in sex and murder cases often have large amounts of unused) which are usually more difficult to do. By volume 90% of cases do pay better under the new scheme.

I do agree with you that it has gone to far the other way and frauds / high PPE cases in general are now terribly paid, to the point where you would make a loss accepting the case. But if the case now makes a loss, what is the alternative but to refuse it?

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I never want to hear anyone who chose to work in criminal legal-aid complain again.

You have made your bed, now you must lie in it.

(5)(11)

Anonymous

No one cares what you want. You probably wouldn’t last a day doing criminal legal aid work.

(7)(1)

Anonymous

No you are quite right there, they couldn’t afford me.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

If he has bills to pay, no he wouldnt

(3)(0)

One of the 48%

We demand a SECOND vote because the result isn’t the one we wanted!

(4)(2)

Anonymous

It would be great if the headline number was accurate … the £15m number INCLUDED VAT, so in fact 3m of that was just money they intended the Bar to give back to the Government

(4)(0)

Corbyn. Sympathiser

Nazis. All of you.

(2)(1)

TheAcresOfFour

52/48.

Must definitely vote again until we get the right result.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

If you take the view that the fee payable is not enough simply reject the case. All fees are “undeemed” and you are perfectly entitled to reject the case if it is inadequately remunerated. If enough people do that there will be trials where it will be economically unviable to take the case on. Most barristers have turned down work on that basis for years. In fact it is not just defence work which underpays – some of the prosecution fees are insultingly low. £480 for a two day trial if it involves theft from an employer with say 400 pages of records to go through is a joke. It may take a day and a half to prepare the case summary, schedules and admissions and then you get paid peanuts for two days of trial. We should refuse work like this until fees for certain types of work are upgraded.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Still not enough

(1)(0)

Ian Dodd

Any business (let’s leave the professional/practice elements to the side for the purposes of this post) which has suffered the reduction of income the criminal bar undoubtedly has would create an operational model which would thrive in the market it operates in.

Sadly, this would mean a significant reduction in the number of barristers in that market, an iconoclastic dismantling of the ‘chambers model’, the building of a working/profitable/durable business model, embracing technological change (30 or so chambers still run a non- internet based diary- management system) and minds open to fundamental change.

Even more sadly, the leadership of the criminal bar only want to repeat the mistakes of the past and try the same thing over and over again hoping for a different result. Thus proving Einstein’s theory that this is a definition of insanity.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Solicitor advocates and in house cps lawyers have consumed huge amounts of work hitherto done by the bar. That has made the career of a newly called barrister virtually impossible. It is financially unviable and tenants migrate to other areas of work. The time bomb ticks away – who will be doing the serious trials in ten years from now? There will be a dearth of barristers with the experience to conduct these trials. Hardly any barrister I know over ten years call would advise a youngster to come to the criminal bar. Sad, but true…

(1)(0)

Ian Dodd

The Bar Council published these figures in 2016;

In the last ten years;

* The value, in real terms, of criminal legal aid work has fallen by 20%
* The volume of criminal legal aid work has fallen by 25%
* The numbers of barristers working in chambers and practicing criminal legal aid work hasn’t fallen
* The proportion of the total number of all cases in criminal legal aid work handled by solicitor advocates has risen from 10% to 50%

It’s only got worse since then.

That the criminal bar continues to operate the same commercial business model knowing this is, well…..criminal.

(0)(0)

Comments are closed.

Related Stories