Criminal barristers refusing to take on new legal aid work have asked the government to abandon plans to test new operating hours for courts, as heads of chambers prepare to discuss whether or not to accept the government’s surprise offer of investment last week.

In a message to members, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) confirms that the Ministry of Jusitce (MoJ) has made a £15m investment offer in order to persuade barristers to end their action against reforms to the advocates graduated fee scheme (AGFS), which determines how criminal advocates are remunerated in legal aid cases.

However, the CBA said it had also raised ‘wider considerations’, including demanding the cancellation of the flexible operating hours (FOH) pilot.

Around 100 chambers have been refusing to take on new legal aid work since 1 April. The CBA was also due to adopt a ‘no returns’ policy this month, under which barristers would refuse to take over cases when diaries clash. This was suspended last week after the MoJ’s offer came to light. 

Heads of chambers will meet on Thursday and CBA members will then be balloted on whether to accept the offer.

‘We should all be under no illusion about either the difficulty or significance of securing any concession for extra investment,’ the CBA said. ‘Other wider considerations we have asked for is the cancellation/long term postponement of the planned FOH programme in crime and consultation before any split shift system is tried again. The MoJ is considering the next steps for that project and is gathering more evidence on the effects of wider changes in the system.

'We have made it very clear what our views are. There is a commitment to work with us in relation to recruitment retention and diversity, which is of such importance to the future of our profession.’

The government’s offer is:

  • An extra £8m for the fraud, drug and child sex cases that lose out under the new scheme
  • A 1% increase in AGFS payments from April 2019 (£2.5m)
  • Further funding of approximately £4.5m, more for juniors

According to the CBA, the MoJ has said the money represents ‘new investment from the Treasury’.