The Law Society has criticised the Ministry of Justice’s proposals for reforming advocacy fees, warning that junior barristers and solicitor-advocates will lose out while QCs enjoy a pay hike.
While the ministry’s plans to modernise the advocates’ graduated fee scheme have received a positive response from bar representatives, Chancery Lane said giving a pay rise to the better paid seemed to run contrary to the government’s own aims of reducing bottlenecks in the court system.
Society president Robert Bourns said: ‘The government should be investing in the early part of the court process as early advice would reduce the number of cases that go to full trial.’
An impact assessment document accompanying the ministry's consultation paper states that the total expenditure on self-employed QCs would increase by around 10% under the proposed scheme.
Led juniors would be paid at the same level as a junior alone. Led juniors would see a 3% gain for employed advocates and 1% for self-employed advocates.
Bourns said the proposed scheme could encourage late changes to defendants’ pleas, drawing out the process and running against the government’s aims of encouraging early guilty pleas.
‘Meanwhile, already well-paid QCs look set for a pay increase of around 10%. The advocates towards the bottom of the pay scale – junior barristers and solicitors – will either stay the same or receive much smaller increases,' he added.
‘Fees across the board are due for an increase, but it is still not acceptable to achieve that in one part of the system at the expense of others.’
Junior-alone advocates would remain broadly cost neutral for employed advocates and decrease by around £1m for self-employed advocates.
Last month the Society announced it was pulling out of the Ministry of Justice-sponsored working group on reforming advocacy fees over openness and transparency concerns.
Bourns said: ‘We have always agreed that the graduated fee schemes are in need of urgent reform and we were involved in the AGFS working group from 2015.
‘However, in December we decided to pull out because restrictions were brought in on how information was shared which meant it was not possible for us to contribute to the process in a meaningful way.’