Defence lawyers have warned that new cuts to fees are ‘untenable, counter-productive and short-sighted’.
Earlier this year the Ministry of Justice published proposals to reform the advocates graduated fee scheme (AGFS), on January 5th – as reported on LegalVoice here.
Yesterday, the MoJ published its response to its consultation confirming it will cut the threshold of pages of prosecution evidence that can be claimed for from 10,000 to 6,000 despite objections by the huge majority of more than a thousand respondents (97%). However, the paper also confirmed that the second threatened fee cut of 8.75% will not be introduced.
‘Most respondents opposed the proposal, over a third specifically on the grounds that such a reduction in fees will, they argued, damage the sustainability of the supplier base,’ the MoJ said. The ministry flagged up arguments by the Law Society and others that the cases targeted by these proposals were the ‘ones that ensure ongoing financial viability’. ‘The Law Society pointed to the rising age profile of providers and the inability to attract new lawyers to this work, given the growing disparity between fees in private and publicly-funded matters,’ it continued.
Nonetheless the MoJ insisted that their proposals were sustainable. Around half the firms holding a contract would be unaffected by the proposal, it argued. ‘In our view, PPE is no longer a good proxy for complexity, which is particularly acute at the high end and we are reducing the threshold to target this small proportion of cases,’ the MoJ said.
‘The relatively minor savings that might be obtained from these ill-advised cuts do not warrant the substantial damage they could cause to the sustainability of a very fragile market, and to access to justice in this country,’ commented Law Society president Joe Egan.
‘The reality is that rates for lower cases in the crown courts are now so low that firms doing this work have been making a loss,’ he continued. ‘Often solicitors have been cross-subsiding this work with funding from bigger cases so they can represent vulnerable people accused of wrongdoing. These cuts are a quick-fix, money-saving solution. They are untenable, highly counter-productive and short-sighted.’
Joe Egan, Law Society
Chancery Lane argues that more pages of evidence are being served by the CPS because cases were more complicated. ‘Terror cases, fraud cases and serious historic sex cases require a large amount of work, for which solicitors should be paid. Defence solicitors have not received any fee increase since 1998,’ he said.
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