Practitioner groups are today pondering whether to accept Michael Gove’s offer to suspend the government’s latest cut to legal aid fees.
News emerged late on Friday that the lord chancellor had made the offer last week.
However, he will withdraw the gesture should criminal defence solicitors resume their nationwide boycott in protest at the Ministry of Justice’s reforms.
A second 8.75% fee cut was introduced on 1 July, which prompted thousands of solicitors to boycott legal aid work under the new rate. A survey by the groups on whether firms would be prepared to withdraw their bids for new legal aid contracts closes today.
Gove (pictured) made an offer on Wednesday during a meeting with the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and the Big Firms Group. A member of the Criminal Bar Association attended as an observer.
In a statement on Friday, CLSA chair Bill Waddington and LCCSA president Jonathan Black said suspending the fee cut means new fixed and standard fees being introduced on 11 January for police station attendance, magistrates’ court representation and Crown court representation in cases with fewer than 501 pages of prosecution evidence will be increased to reflect only the first 8.75% reduction [introduced last year] for a three-month period.
Other fees, where the fee scheme structure remains unchanged, will revert to levels prior to the 1 July cut. These include Crown court cases with more than 501 pages of prosecution evidence, Court of Appeal fees and fees for advice and assistance outside the police station.
The suspension would apply to all work on cases that begin in the three months from 11 January 2016, even if a case concludes after 10 April.
Gove will press ahead with plans for a reduced number of duty provider contracts in the absence of any viable alternative, the statement said.
Waddington and Black said they understand that firms will be notified if their bids have been successful during the week beginning 28 September.
During the solicitors’ 52-day protest, practitioner groups met the justice secretary and MoJ officials three times to discuss the government’s reforms. They suspended the action on 21 August as a ’gesture of goodwill’.
'[Gove] emphasised that if the profession choose to return to action in an attempt to derail [two-tier contracts] then it is likely that the offer of a suspension will be withdrawn and any constructive engagement will cease,’ Waddington and Black said this evening.
'We have not yet agreed this because it falls far short of a permanent suspension but we are aware that the suspension given in the past to the bar remained permanently in place.’
A spokesperson for the MoJ told the Gazette the lord chancellor explained to the practitioner groups at Wednesday's meeting that he was 'minded to suspend' the latest fee cut for three months from 11 January 'in order to support firms as the new contracts are introduced'.
'However this suspension is contingent upon the profession continuing to engage constructively during the transition to the new contracting system,' the spokesperson said.