Barristers slam LAA over ‘misleading and cynical’ VHCC list

chawlaqcChambers are ‘wholly incensed’ by a list of 330 barristers and higher court advocates sent by the the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) to solicitors looking for counsel to undertake very high cost cases (VHCC).

The list was sent to law firms who contacted the LAA because they were unable to find counsel willing to take on the work at the 30% reduced fee rates which came into force for new cases this week.

The backlash to the list began on Twitter on Monday night, as Mukul Chawla QC (pictured) tweeted: ‘I appear on a list provided by the LAA of counsel prepared to do VHCCs at new rates. It’s a lie and, worse still, they know it’s a lie.’

Chawla’s chambers, 9-12 Bell Yard, subsequently published a statement on its website saying the LAA’s actions were ‘indicative of their shabby and underhand treatment of barristers’.  ‘These Chambers have consistently voiced our opposition to these rates and have made clear that none of its members will accept these cases,’ said the statement. ‘For the avoidance of any doubt, if you are a solicitor looking for a member of the Bar to undertake these cases, save yourself the price of a telephone call as none of our members will accept this work.’

Misleading, cynical and underhand
Exchange Chambers also hit out at the list, with director Tom Handley posting on the set’s website: ‘This list is clearly aimed at creating divisions within the profession by suggesting barristers are prepared to undertake VHCC work at the new lower rates when they are not.’

Twenty-two barristers from Exchange featured on the list, with none of them prepared to carry out VHCC work at the new rates, according to Handley.  ‘[The list] is deliberately misleading, cynical and underhand,’ he said.

Garden Court North chambers rejected any suggestion that Pete Weatherby QC would undertake VHCC work at the new rates, stating that he ‘strongly objects to the use of his name in an attempt to mislead others in the profession.’

‘This Chambers has a long and proud history of opposing cuts to criminal and civil legal aid which leave the most vulnerable in our society unrepresented or with representation which is inadequate,’ said a statement on Garden Court North’s website.  ‘We will continue to do everything we can to protect the rights of our clients and maintain proper standards in the profession.’

Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) Nigel Lithman QC said that members of the CBA were ‘wholly incensed as to the damage the implication may do to their reputation’ and a number were ‘considering their legal position’.

In response to the backlash, a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) spokesperson said that rumours of a ‘secret’ list were ‘completely unfounded’. ‘The list is simply a list of barristers who have worked on VHCCs. Nothing more, nothing less,’ said the spokesperson. The MoJ continued:

‘If a solicitor has contacted the LAA to say that they can’t find or don’t know many barristers or can’t find one to work at the new rate, the LAA has given them a list of barristers who have worked generally on VHCCs.’

The statement went on to declare that the list is ‘not a list of advocates who will work at the new rates and never has been presented as such‘. It also said that  ‘as always, an advocate has discretion to accept or refuse instructions.’

The LAA later tweeted a link to information on its website to ‘clarify’ the ‘confusion’.

According to the LAA website, a new list of ‘self-employed advocates who have [applied for and] been accredited for VHCC cases has been provided to solicitors to assist them in exercising their duty to secure representation for their clients.’

The LAA reiterated that advocates have ‘discretion to accept or refuse instructions’ and added the following caveat: ‘Please note that the circumstances of the individuals identified in the list may have changed e.g. they may no longer be a member of the chambers listed.’

 

Thanks to Ben Denison for the photo.

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