The chairman of the Bar Council has weighed into the debate on plans to restructure the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS), claiming the body is in danger of losing confidence in the government’s proposals.
In a strongly worded letter to the Ministry of Justice, Andrew Langdon QC urges the department to commit to index-linked increases and regular reviews to test the assertion that the scheme is cost-neutral.
The letter is distinct from the council’s official response to the proposals, which it submitted last week. In that document the council said it supports a general restructuring of AGFS but that it does not necessarily believe that the rates proposed are adequate.
It also raised concern over whether the new scheme would be cost-neutral, as the government had suggested.
‘What is clear is that there should be ongoing reviews of the scheme by some method, so that adjustments can be made in the light of experience,’ the council said, adding that many barristers who had compared the fees paid to them under the current scheme with the fees that they would be paid under the proposed scheme had calculated a fee cut.
In his letter, sent last week, Langdon says the council had ‘repeatedly set out’ concerns over cost neutrality.
Cost neutrality, the letter says, was established against the year 2014/15.
However, the letter claims that without the council’s ‘knowledge or involvement’ the MoJ chose, as part of its impact assessment, to calculate what the subsequent year (2015/16) would have cost if the new scheme had been in force. This equated to around 3% less than the 2014/15’s expenditure of £213m, Langdon said.
According to Langdon, the last year for which figures are available represents a better indicator of the following year than any preceding year. ‘That is why, when we were working on the scheme we chose the then latest figures – 2014/15,’ he states.
‘Given successive years of cuts, a justifiable sense of grievance will undoubtedly result if new scheme does not even maintain cost neutrality against current expenditure,’ Langdon adds. ‘If requests are ignored we shall all have a long time to repent the consequences.’