The threat of ‘no returns’ action remains ‘very much there’ following a crunch meeting at which senior barristers considered a surprise £15 million offer aimed at ending the boycott of new legal aid work, the Gazette understands.

Heads of chambers from the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) met last night to discuss the government’s offer. A ballot asking the CBA’s 4,000 members for their opinion is to open next week, with a result is expected on 11 June.

If members accept the offer it will bring an end to the protest action. However, if it is rejected it is expected that the currently suspended ‘no returns’ escalation will come into force.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has offered to put an extra £15 million into the advocates graduated fee scheme (AGFS), which determines how criminal advocates are remunerated in legal aid cases.

Around 100 chambers have been refusing to take on new legal aid work since 1 April in protest at what they say are continuing cuts to the legal aid budget. 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, but this had been suspended until 12 June to give members time to consider the government’s offer.

A source told the Gazette that heads of chambers will now be ‘running the numbers’ for their own practices and that there will be much work to do behind the scenes.

They added: ‘There was a sense [last night] that heads of chambers had a greater understanding of how far the CBA has travelled with the MOJ but that for everyone there is still detailed analysis to be done. The threat of no returns remains very much there.’

The government’s offer, which is understood to be final, 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.