The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) is to suspend its call for members to step up their boycott of legal aid work after claiming to have received an offer of more money from the government.
In a statement this afternoon the CBA said there had been a ‘breakthrough’ after members met the lord chancellor and Ministry of Justice officials last night.
Earlier this month, the CBA announced it would be stepping up its protest action from 25 May by adopting a ‘no returns’ policy, under which barristers would refuse to take over cases when diaries clash. Around 100 chambers have been refusing to take on new legal aid work since 1 April. Both these actions are in protest against changes to the advocates graduated fee scheme (AGFS) which determines how criminal advocates are remunerated in legal aid cases.
The government’s offer reportedly includes:
- Extra funding of £8m for the fraud, drug and child sex cases that lose out under the new scheme
- A 1% increase in AGFS from April 2019 (£2.5m)
- Further funding of approximately £4.5m, more for juniors
The CBA is to call a meeting with heads of chambers and ballot its members on the offer. In the meantime, the CBA said the ‘no returns’ policy will be suspended until 12 June with immediate effect. Barristers will still continue to decline new representation work dated from 1 April.
CBA chair Angela Rafferty said: ‘This has been very difficult to achieve and has been an almost non-stop effort on our part. We are of the view that at last the government is recognising the importance of the criminal justice system should have in our society.’
‘I have repeatedly stated that we will not accept any offer without proper and meaningful consultation. We are in the uncharted territory of seeking to secure more global funding from the government, rather than seeking to prevent a cut. There are many detailed discussions to have in this two week period.’
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: ’We welcome the decision to suspend the escalation of action, which would have seriously affected victims, witnesses and all court users.
’The original scheme was designed with significant input from the bar. We have listened carefully to the concerns they have since raised and will continue to work closely together moving forwards.’