Lithman: fee cuts will be 'kiss of death'

Topics: Legal aid and access to justice,The Bar

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Fee cuts of up to 30% will be the ‘kiss of death’ for the criminal bar, its new leader has told the justice secretary.


In a meeting with Chris Grayling following publication of the government’s second consultation on legal aid reforms, Nigel Lithman QC said that criminal barristers will accept ‘not a penny more’ of fee cuts.

Since 1997, Lithman said, criminal barristers have had their fees slashed by 30%, with a 13.5% reduction in the past three years.

In its second consultation published on 5 September, the Ministry of Justice confirmed plans to cut criminal legal aid fees by 17.5% in two stages. Barristers and solicitor-advocates who do the most serious cases, classified as very high cost cases (VHCCs), will be hit harder, with rates cut by 30%.

The changes are part of a wider reform package intended to save £220m from the annual £975m criminal legal aid budget.

Lithman said the cuts were ‘killing the profession’ whose morale has been ‘laid low’ after years of pay reductions. ‘No other public profession such as doctors, teachers, nurses have been cut year on year and no profession could sustain it.’

Lithman said the cuts would be the ‘kiss of the death’ for the criminal bar. He offered to help the ministry find alternative ways to cut costs, with the assistance of the ‘brightest and best’ barristers, but said the bar will not accept the fee cuts proposed or any other fee cuts.

In assessing the impact of the changes on VHCC fees, the ministry accepted the risk that providers may cut the time they spend on cases or stop doing them altogether, or that it would lead to more junior barristers taking on the most serious cases.

But the ministry said it believed that junior legal professionals would be of ‘sufficiently good quality’ to represent defendants ‘adequately’.

A spokesman, said: ’The small number of criminal very high cost cases take up a disproportionate amount of the legal aid budget and place too much of a burden on taxpayers. There have been several cases over recent years that cost more than £10 million in legal aid fees. In the current economic climate this cannot continue.

’Even after these reforms, we will still have one of the most generous legal aid systems in the world. We want to ensure the limited money we have is concentrated on those cases and people who need it most.’

Readers' comments (6)

  • I believe that our profession, (solicitors & barristers) has probably passed the point of no return on the issue of “industrialization”.

    In my view we have one route open to us, to salvage this situation, to strike now. All of us solicitors, counsel resolve that for a 7-day period ... before Christmas-2013.... no one, absolutely no one, solicitor or barrister enters a police station, magistrates court, crown court, court of appeal, for one week.

    The result will be disruption, bordering on chaos. If thereafter rates are not restored to a meaningful level, then this must be followed by a 2-week strike, immediately after the Christmas Break.

    If that does not achieve the result then, this must be followed by a one month strike before Easter-2014.

    If this united and firm action is not adopted forthwith, then we are doomed to follow the fate of the home loomers, at the time of the industrial revolution; we will have passed the point of no return.

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  • I do not take issue with the argument that our profession requires rationalization and re-structuring, but the question for all in private practice to ask themselves is whether they will have a significant influence on these issues or whether they surrender their independence and authority to the whims of short-term government policy & big business profits.

    When the government crushed the miners under Mrs. Thatcher, Arthur Scargill predicted not just the neutering of the NUM, but of the Trade Union movement. His political views did not appeal to me, but his foresight was borne out by events. The Trade Union movement is a hollow shadow of its former self.

    If lawyers lose their independence it will not be just the criminal justice system that loses its legitimacy in the eyes of its users, but our system of legal process, before society generally.

    Our leaders in the Law Society and the Bar Council, need to face up to the challenges and lead us, either to retain our independence and the integrity of our legal system, or by passivity and appeasement, continue to sleepwalk our profession into oblivion

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  • There is absolutely no chance - no chance at all - of solicitors staying 100 per cent. together in support of a strike.
    People are desperate, and will not upset their clients. Opportunists abound - they will be everywhere hoovering up the work.
    Sorry, but that is the way it is.

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  • The fee cuts will come. There will be no 'strikes'. The legal profession, particularly the Bar, ought seriously to consider a fundamental and empirical restructuring of their business management, corporate organisation and structure. Otherwise, 'oblivion' does look like a possible destination.

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  • I see that Capita is now applying for ABS status ...

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  • Mr Brown talks about the independence of the profession. I am afraid the profession is not independent as it is governed by a myriad of government quangos. These quangoites are hellben Ton closing down sole practitioners and small firms to be replaced with ABS.

    We are not considered to be independent by eithe our European or US colleagues

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