The profession has hit back at a QC seeking election as vice-chair of the Criminal Bar Association after he appeared to liken solicitors to 'the postman’ in a comment about the advocates' graduated fee scheme (AGFS).
The comments appear in Simon Spence’s manifesto, in which the QC, a member of Red Lion Chambers, says a new AGFS must be negotiated. He adds that the fee structure must be altered beyond just the removal of the page-count element, with payment for all hearings and proper reward for early preparation. To pay for this he suggests a ’re-allocation of funding away from the litigators’ fee.’
At present litigators ‘are often paid more than the advocate for little more than instructing counsel and inviting them onto the CCDCS [Crown Court Digital Case System]. It is quite wrong that the postman gets paid more than the person to whom he delivers the post and who has to read and digest it.’
The comments have outraged solicitors. In an open letter, published today, the Criminal Law Solicitors Association says solicitors see clients on ‘countless occasions’ before a brief is even delivered and that clients ‘regularly turn to us with a manner of problems that don’t ever come anywhere near your letterbox'.
‘As “postmen” we represent our clients at the police station and at the magistrates court,' the letter states. 'Representation at the latter being paid for by the litigators’ fee that you believe ought to be cut’.
It goes on: ‘Legal aid isn’t just handed out. As “postmen” we sit with our client and fill in the forms. We obtain the necessary financial evidence and we submit the application. We do all of this so that both of us get paid.'
Jonathan Black, partner at criminal defence firm BSB Solicitors, said: 'I doubt that Spence is alone in this view, it is one that may prevail in terms of the outcome of the election.' He called for 'an honest debate with the bar'.
Spence defended his comments in an open letter in which he stated that he was not suggesting a reduction in fee levels for solicitors. The letter adds: 'The point I was seeking to make is that fewer cases proceed by way of committal through the magistrates’ court than was the case once and that the introduction of the CCDCS has removed the necessity of solicitors physically briefing counsel.'
Spence's chambers has since tweeted to distance itself from the comments.
The manifesto is Simon Spence QC's statement, drafted and presented by him alone. It does not in any way represent Red Lion Chamber's view.— Red Lion Chambers (@RedLionChambers) 27 June 2017