Criminal practitioners are demanding answers from the Legal Aid Agency over what they say is uncertainty regarding proposed cuts in fees.
Jonathan Black (pictured), president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, wrote to the Legal Aid Agency over concerns about a planned second 8.75% cut to the Litigators’ Graduated Fee Scheme (LGFS) and an 8.25% cut to the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS).
The AGFS applies to barristers who provide legal aid representation on behalf of a client (ie counsel advocates) while LGFS applies to litigators representing clients for Crown court cases.
Black has asked the LAA to confirm that a second 8.75% fee cut is 'not a foregone conclusion' and subject to review. He has also asked whether there is still a prospect of a 8.25% cut to the AGFS. He awaits an answer.
Criminal practitioners are currently preparing tender bids for 527 duty provider contracts after the Court of Appeal dismissed a challenge from the Law Society, the LCCSA and the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association to the lord chancellor’s criminal legal aid reforms. The deadline for applications is midday on 5 May.
Black told the Gazette: ‘From what we have been told by the Ministry of Justice, we are expected to prepare for bids on the basis of a second fee cut, with uncertainty as to whether, even if the Conservative party was re-elected, it would proceed with the proposed cut to either LGFS or AGFS.
‘We would hope for an opportunity to make representations in respect of both sets of fees as they impact on a modern solicitors’ practice. We haven’t been offered that opportunity yet.’
Black said two-thirds of criminal firms would eventually have to close If the cuts were to proceed.
Earlier this week the LAA told Black the second LGFS fee reduction and an AGFS fee reduction were subject to further consideration by ministers before a final decision is made.
The LAA said its position on fee reductions for both the LGFS and AGFS remained the same as it set out in March 2014.