The Law Society today issued proceedings against the Ministry of Justice over its decision to impose further legal aid cuts that will 'penalise' defence practitioners working on terror, fraud and sex abuse cases.
The litigators' graduated fee scheme, introduced in 2008, remunerates litigators for Crown court work. In October the Ministry of Justice confirmed it would reduce the cap on the number of claimable pages of prosecution evidence (PPE) from 10,000 to 6,000 - despite 97% of consultation respondents opposing the proposal.
Joe Egan, Society president, said: 'The government is cutting the payments made to defence lawyers for considering and responding to evidence served by the prosecution. Their justification for this cut is that electronic and social media evidence is not always relevant to the complexity of the case. However, it was exactly this social media evidence that defence lawyers had to examine in order to secure the exoneration of Liam Allen.' [Allen was charged with 12 counts of rape and sexual assault but his trial collapsed after police failed to disclose vital evidence to the defence.]
Chancery Lane points out that terror, fraud and historic sex abuse cases require a large amount of work, for which solicitors should be paid.
Egan said: 'Disclosure of evidence is integral to a criminal investigation, and the defence in paper-heavy cases are being penalised. These arbitrary cuts could have a very detrimental impact on justice. We believe this is unlawful, and that’s why we’re taking the government to the High Court.'
In the 2015-16 financial year, the government spent £341m on cases that completed in the LGFS. An impact assessment published by the government in February last year 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.
Despite overwhelming opposition, the ministry confirmed in October it would reduce the PPE cap, claiming its proposals would affect around half of firms currently holding a contract.