Criminal barristers have said direct action should be taken again as anger over the Ministry of Justice’s planned offer of £15m investment into the advocates graduated fee scheme (AGFS) continues to grow.
In August, the Ministry of Justice published a consultation outlining how it planned to allocate £15m through fee increases of between 10% and 50%. The offer was made after around 100 chambers stopped accepting new work and threatened to implement a ‘no returns’ policy whereby barristers would have refused to take over cases when diaries clashed.
But members of the bar, who argue that the proposals will represent a shortfall of £8.6m after years of cuts, have called on the CBA to reinstate ‘no returns’ with immediate effect.
A source close to the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) leadership told the Gazette that the possibility is still ‘very much on the cards’. However, no official announcement has been made.
Neil Baki, a tenant at Farrar’s Building, said criminal barristers are 'seething’ over the latest iteration of the AGFS. ‘To force justice on the cheap is to constrain on the public that the rule of law is not for them and that miscarriages of justice where the guilty go free and the innocent are convicted is acceptable,’ he said.
He added: 'The legal aid budget has been cut by some 40% in real terms and this scheme has seen some of the largest cuts yet. Those that voted to suspend action did so for understandable pragmatic reasons but they are now calling on the CBA and Bar Council to take action. I believe that if a vote were called to resume action, there would be overwhelming support to continue that action. The situation is desperate. The government needs to address this now, or there will be further unrest to follow.’
A spokesperson for the CBA said: ‘The CBA chair Chris Henley QC is currently consulting with heads of chambers so that we are ready if the promises made to us in May are not honoured in full’.
Meanwhile, the body representing junior solicitors has also given a stinging critique of the government’s plan and asked why solicitors were not consulted over the proposals.
In a consultation response seen by the Gazette, the Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) said: ‘It cannot be avoided that this consultation has been borne solely of dialogue between the ministry and the bar. The solicitor profession has not had any meaningful opportunity to voice its concerns.’
The JLD, which represents solicitors with up to five years PQE, said it felt it appropriate to provide a response given the ‘serious potential impact’ on many of its members. It added that the proposals will result in QCs enjoying a pay hike while juniors are unlikely to benefit.
The consultation into the MoJ’s proposals closes tomorrow.