Bar keep steady line on VHCC protest

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Criminal counsel are keeping a steady line in their rejection of Very High Cost Cases (VHCCs) under the new rates, which came into effect on 2 December and represent a 30% reduction.

According to the Legal Aid Agency (LAA), 41 barristers working on existing VHCCs have withdrawn from them.

Criminal Bar Association (CBA) Chairman Nigel Lithman QC said: “The emails I have received have indicated that everybody that is or would be instructed for VHCC cases would not agree to do so at the new rates.

That said, there may be a number of lawyers who are not up to the job who may take them but I doubt even that.”

According to a tweet on Friday, Southwark Crown Court heard that more than 300 barristers asked to accept instructions in a trial beginning next September have refused.

However, an LAA spokesperson said: “The trial in this case [R v Dodgson & Ors] is listed for September next year.

Today’s hearing was a Plea and Case Management Hearing, at which all the defendants had legal representatives.

41 barristers of the 553 advocates working on existing VHCCs have notified the LAA that they were withdrawing from a VHCC case. While it is disappointing some barristers have chosen to return contracts, we are confident cases will continue to be heard. Those cases that have been affected continue to have representation. 

VHCCs represent a tiny number of criminal trials – less than 1% of crown court trials in the last year were VHCCs. While it is disappointing some barristers have chosen to return contracts, we are confident that cases will continue to be heard.

Barristers in Very High Cost Cases are well-rewarded. Around two-thirds receive fee incomes of over £100,000, and often well-over that. Even after our changes they would continue to be generously paid.”

Meanwhile, chambers have been tweeting their refusal to accept VHCCs at the new rates while some chambers, including 25 Bedford Row and 9-12 Bell Yard, have posted statements on their websites to that effect. This is in response to a list of 330 accredited counsel given on request to solicitors by the LAA, which raised the inference that those counsel might be prepared to take on cases. The outpouring of tweets has now reduced the number of possibilities on that list, with only 89 counsel left to publicly state on twitter that they will not accept any new VHCCs.

9-12 Bell Yard’s statement said: “These chambers have consistently voiced our opposition to these rates and have made clear that none of its members will accept these cases. The fact that the Legal Aid Agency has chosen to distribute the list with the names of a number of our members included, without any consultation of them, is indicative of their shabby and underhand treatment of barristers.”

A day of protest is due to be held next month over fee cuts affecting the criminal Bar.

Lithman QC said: “The protest on 6 January is for all barristers acting in all criminal cases who wish to demonstrate to the government that they are not going to work at the reduced rates, which makes their professional lives untenable and which will bring about the destruction of the criminal bar and with it the criminal justice system.”

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