The ‘backroom’ deal agreed by the Ministry of Justice to end the VHCC fee dispute with barristers has been sharply criticised for excluding solicitors who are the ‘backbone’ of the system.
Nicola Hill, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (pictured), described the agreement as an ‘exercise in face-saving for the government’.
She added: ‘It isn’t about maintaining high standards of justice in police stations and courts throughout this country. Today’s backroom deal with the bar excluded solicitors from negotiations yet again and fails to address the silent crisis simmering away in a strained and neglected system.'
The deal provided for individually negotiated fee deals with barristers, which will ensure seven fraud trials which had been hit by the bar’s refusal to work at reduced rates will go ahead.
The ministry would not disclose details of the new fixed fees, but insisted the payments would not be any higher than originally budgeted for.
Hill accused Grayling of showing ‘no respect or understanding’ of the core workings of the criminal justice system.
‘Solicitors who do publicly funded defence work are the backbone of the justice system. Day-in, day-out they represent people accused of a crime from police station to magistrates and often Crown court,’ she said. ‘While holding regular meetings behind closed doors with the bar, he refuses to engage with practising solicitor groups.’
The chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, Bill Waddington, said the deal for a ‘small number of barristers in a small number of cases’ is a nothing more than a ‘sticking plaster’ over ‘huge cracks’ and will not prevent the ‘collapse’ of the criminal justice system.
Waddington added: ‘The real work on VHCCs and any other criminal case begins in the police station and the lower courts, where good quality advice and representation is essential to the future of the case.
‘To continue to slash and burn at fee rates will damage quality, justice and the credibility of the system.'
The two groups have begun judicial review proceedings over the ministry’s decision to go ahead with the fee cuts, challenging the legitimacy of the consultation process.
Meanwhile, members are continuing a rolling programme of action, refusing new Crown court cases and working strictly in accordance with the Criminal Procedure Rules.