The Law Society is taking High Court action against the government's latest criminal legal aid reforms over concerns that the 'fragile' sector will not be able to withstand further cuts.
The litigators' graduated fee scheme, introduced in 2008, remunerates litigators for Crown court work. Last month the Ministry of Justice confirmed it would reduce the cap on the number of claimable pages of prosecution evidence from 10,000 to 6,000 - despite 97% of consultation respondents opposing the proposal. The change is due to come into force on Friday.
The ministry says action is needed to address a 'substantial rise' in LGFS costs despite the volume of cases falling, partly due to R v Napper  5 Costs LR 947, which broadened the scope of PPE. The ministry believes the counting of pages, and counting of new forms of electronic evidence, converted to 'pages', are no longer the most effective ways of assessing how much work a litigator needs to do in an individual case, and therefore how much the litigator should be paid.
In the 2015-16 financial year, the government spent £341m on cases completed under the scheme.
Today, Chancery Lane confirmed it will shortly issue a pre-action protocol letter for judicial review. Christina Blacklaws, vice-president of the Society, said: 'We now have no choice but to take this significant step. The relatively minor savings that might be obtained from these ill-advised cuts do not warrant the substantial damage they could cause.'
The Society points out that the Crown Prosecution Service is serving more pages of evidence because cases are now more complicated. Terror cases, fraud cases and historic sex cases require a large amount of work, it says. Defence solicitors have received no fee increase since 1998.
Chancery Lane says rates for less complex cases in the Crown court are now so low that firms doing this work are making a loss. Often, solicitors have been cross-subsidising this work with funding from bigger cases so they can represent vulnerable people accused of wrongdoing.
Blacklaws said: 'These cuts are a quick-fix, money-saving solution. They are untenable, highly counter-productive and short-sighted. The legal action we are announcing today is a move forced on us - it is not a route we would have chosen.'
An impact assessment published by the government in February estimated that legal aid providers conducting cases with at least 6,000 of prosecution evidence would receive around £26m to £36m less for LGFS payments. The ministry claimed last month that its proposals will affect around half of firms currently holding a contract.