The lord chancellor is to crack down on the banned practice of referral fees in criminal proceedings.

Michael Gove told a dinner for Her Majesty’s Judges last night that he was aware of concerns about inappropriate payments between parties. ‘That is not something I will tolerate. Work should go to the advocate most qualified for the job, not to the highest bidder.’

Gove told judges that he wanted to ‘take steps as quickly as possible’ to deal with ‘those market failures which create incentives for the abuse of the system’.

He said: ‘Part of this will be about taking steps to make sure that in every case, the advocate has been instructed because they are the right person for the job, and not because of their relationship with the instructing solicitor.’

Gove said he was ‘keen to take forward’ helpful work identified in Sir Bill Jeffrey’s report on criminal advocacy in the courts as he was ‘committed to ensuring we can maintain high-quality advocacy in our criminal courts’.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice told the Gazette that a consultation will be published this autumn, looking at improving the quality of advocacy services as well as ways in which the MoJ can take a tougher stance on referral fees.  

Gove told judges last night that the courts of England and Wales could work effectively only ‘if we have not just respected independent judges but also a healthy independent bar’.

A recent Solicitors Regulation Authority consultation on cutting red tape, Improving regulation: proportionate and targeted measures, asked whether the ban on making payments to introducers of legal aid customers, or those who are the subject of criminal proceedings, should be retained.

The SRA cited ‘economic imperatives’ potentially arising from the dramatic changes that have taken place in the criminal market over recent years.

In particular, solicitors and solicitors’ firms are now more involved in advocacy, while some expect to see barristers’ chambers delivering criminal services beyond advocacy.